Tarun Tejpal case: What should a rape survivor look like?

Judgement aquitting Tarun Tejpal of sexual assault, states complainant “did not demonstrate any kind of normative behaviour” that a survivor “might plausibly show”

Image Courtesy:livelaw.in

After a trial court in Goa acquitted journalist Tarun Tejpal in a sexual assault case, observing that there was no evidence to support the allegations made by the complainant, a woman who was his junior colleague at Tehelka magazine, the state’s Cheif Minister Pramod Sawant has reported said he “vows” to fight the case till the woman gets justice. According to a report in Zee News, the Goa CM called the court’s order “unfortunate” adding that the state government will challenge it in the High Court.

On May 21, the former editor-in-chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal was acquitted of charges of sexual harassment and rape of his colleague in 2013. Tejpal was charged for offences under Indian Penal Code sections of 354 (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty), 354A (sexual harassment), 354B (assault or use of force against woman with intent to disrobe), 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (2)(f) (person in position of authority over women, committing rape) and 376(2)(k) (rape by person in position of control).

After a copy of the judgement became public, the Goa government announced that it has filed an appeal in the Bombay High Court against Tejpal’s acquittal. According to news reports,Goa CM Pramod Sawant said, “We have filed an appeal in Bombay High Court against the verdict (acquittal of Tarun Tejpal, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, in alleged sexual assault case). The state government will fight this case until the woman gets justice.” 

Tejpal, who was released on bail earlier, had  pleaded “not guilty”, and had even moved the Supreme Court seeking that the charges levelled against him be quashed. However the SC did not quash the charges and directed that the trial be concluded within six months, stated media reports. 

Now, the news reports of verdict in the closely followed case of the alleged assault that took place at a Goa hotel in 2013, quote the the District and Sessions judge observing that the complainant “did not demonstrate any kind of normative behaviour” that a victim of sexual assault “might plausibly show”. The Court reportedly noted, “The unnatural conduct of the prosecutrix is again relevant under Section 8 of the Evidence Act. The prosecutrix had admitted that there are two SMSes sent from her phone to the accused on 8/11/2013…..and that these messages were not sent by her in response to any messages.”

The over 500 page order by Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi states, “Upon considering evidence on record…benefit of doubt is given to the accused because there is no corroborative evidence supporting the allegations made by the complainant girl.” She ruled that there was no medical evidence and there were “facts” that “create doubt on (her) truthfulness,” reported The Indian Express.

The court stated that the woman’s messages to the accused “clearly establish” that she was neither “traumatised nor terrified” and this “completely belies” the prosecution’s case. The court said that benefit of doubt is given to the accused because there is no corroborative evidence supporting the allegations made by the complainant. 

According to a report in NDTV, the court added that the complainant has made many conflicting statements. “There are many evidence on record which create doubt on the truthfulness of the complainant girl,” the court reportedly observed. The court has also observed that the Investigating Officer or IO (Crime Branch officer Sunita Sawant) did not conduct investigation on vital points of the case. “It cannot be lost site (sight) that rape causes the greatest distress and humiliation to the victim but at the same time a false allegation of rape can cause an equal distress and humiliation and damage to the accused as well,” observed the court adding that there were omissions and commissions while conducting the investigation, and that the IP “destroyed crucial piece of evidence in terms of CCTV footage of the first floor of 7th block of the hotel, which was clear proof of innocence of the accused”. The court said that the Investigating Officer “did not verify the operation and functioning of the lift panel of block 7 (of the hotel) to prove that opening of lift can be stopped or not” nor did the IO investigate whether the lift can be prevented from opening or can be kept in circuit by pressing a button as alleged by the complainant.

The court noted that Sunita Sawant the (initial) complainant (Goa police took suo motu cognisance of the allegations) can not be Investigation Officer in the case but she did not move any proposal to her superiors to hand over the investigation to another officer, reported NDTV. The order has said the CCTV footage indicates that the lift in fact opened twice on the ground floor whereas the woman claimed the lift did not open at all. According to the court, the IO admitted that there is a “contradiction between CCTV footage and statement of the complainant girl,” yet did not record a supplementary statement. According to the judge “the contradictions are often so glaring that the exact opposite of what the complainant girl is claiming yet IO did not question the complainant girl. It is settled proposition that acquittal of the accused can not result due to defects in the investigation, the evidences have to be scrutinised independently.” 

Indian Women’s Press Corp (IWPC) disappointed with acquittal 

The Indian Women’s Press Corp (IWPC) has said it “stands in solidarity with the survivor” and that it took “great courage for the young woman journalist to come out against her editor and fight tirelessly for eight years in a system that is skewed in favour of men.”

According to the women journalists group, the acquittal of Tejpal “a powerful editor who himself admitted to “the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me” — has made the fight for justice harder for women.” The IWPC welcomed the Goa government’s decision to appeal against the session court’s judgment.

Network of Women in Media, India applauds survivor’s courage, determination 

Network of Women in Media, India  (NWMI) applauds the survivor’s courage, and determination during the seven-and-a-half-year journey of the case so far. They stated her her “struggle has been the struggle of every woman facing sexual harassment and sexual violence at the workplace and attempting to push back the asymmetric power of dominant men in the media.”

According to the NWMI, the case also “highlighted the continuing inadequacy of mechanisms and processes to combat sexual harassment in media workplaces. That, unfortunately, has not noticeably changed since 2013, despite the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act earlier that year.”


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