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Tehelka Molestation: Pressure mounts for action against Tarun Tejpal
Thursday November 21, 2013 9:20 PM, IANS

Pressure mounted Thursday for action against Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal for allegedly molesting a woman journalist in a five-star hotel as the Goa government and the National Commission for Women (NCW) indicated they could act in the case.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded action in the case saying the criminality of the act can't be shielded.

The incident has sparked wide condemnation from media and women activists, who demanded that the matter should be probed and could not be treated as an "internal matter" of the magazine that is known for its investigative articles.

"A self-proclaimed atonement is hardly the remedy for what allegations suggest is outright criminality," the Editors Guild of India said in a statement.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said the victim has to come forward and file a complaint about the incident that allegedly took place in a hotel in north Goa where Tehelka had organised its Think fest early this month.

"Unless I have a complaint I cannot prove guilt," he said.

Parrikar also hinted they could hold a preliminary probe saying a criminal act has happened in the jurisdiction of the state. "We are required to investigate. And this does not require a complaint," he told reporters.

On Wednesday, Tehelka's managing editor Shoma Chaudhury sent an email to employees, containing an appended letter from Tejpal, Tehelka's founder and editor-in-chief.

In an email to Chaudhary earlier, Tejpal said: "A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, has led to an unfortunate incident that is against all we believe in and fight for."

"I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months."

Chaudhury sent a letter to Tehelka employees, with Tejpal's "atonement" note as attachment, saying: "There was an incident which has been dealt with internally. An unconditional apology was extended by Tarun. The journalist concerned was satisfied with the action taken. Tarun voluntarily recusing himself as editor is in keeping with the standards we have espoused as an institution and want to live by."

Chaudhury also asked her colleagues to "stand by the institution" in what was a "hard time for all of us".

But NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma said Tejpal could not decide his own punishment.

Sharma said once the matter is brought to the National Commission for Woman "we will investigate the matter and ensure that the accused gets punishment, if found guilty. He will have to face a trial in the court."

Another NCW member, Shamima Shafiq, said in Mumbai that she had spoken to Chaudhary and would be "asking for an explanation".

The BJP, which faced embarrassment following a 2001 Tehelka sting operation in which its then president Bangaru Laxman was caught accepting a bribe from purported arms dealers, said the alleged act of molestation was tantamount to rape according to law.

BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, addressing a press conference, said: "In today's amended definition, the doing of Tarun Tejpal is called rape."

She termed the Tejpal's "atonement" letter "immensely shocking", adding: "… Criminality cannot be shielded in this action."

She demanded that both the NCW and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) probe the case. "Both NCW and the NHRC have maintained silence, they need to speak up."

Lekhi also demanded that a police case be filed against Tejpal and that he be immediately arrested.

The BJP spokesperson claimed "political vendetta" in the "blanket" being sought to be put on the case while the case of alleged stalking of a Bangalore woman by Gujarat Police on the orders of then minister Amit Shah was being given wide media publicity.

Lekhi said: "I am on purpose drawing attention to ironical situations, in which two women are involved; where one woman is seeking anonymity and her reputation is maligned by those who seek political vendetta, and there are members from the media fraternity, who are violating the victim's privacy."

As the media mounted pressure on Tehelka, Chaudhury told reporters she needed a little time to address all the questions. She said a press conference would be held to address all the queries.

Former top police official and prominent civil society member Kiran Bedi termed the alleged incident an "extremely erroneous act".

Social activist Kavita Srivastav said even if the victim does not file an FIR, Tejpal should not return as the editor-in-chief of Tehelka.

The Indian Women's Press Corps said it "strongly condemns the sexual misconduct by the editor-in-chief of Tehelka against a young women journalist." It said media houses and organisations should take corrective measures, including setting up pro-active internal complaints committees for the effective enforcement of the Vishakha Guidelines. It urged Tehelka to set up a probe committee to investigate the complaint.

The Press Club of India described the incident as a "slur" on the name of Indian journalism. "The shocking happening at Tehelka, we hope, will not deter women from wanting to become journalists," it said.

"This is not the time to hide behind technicalities and penances but to live by the standards it has set for others. Inward gazing may cleanse the conscience but a crime deserves and must get its punishment. And what Tejpal has done is a crime," the Delhi Union of Journalists said.

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