Tarun Tejpal’s ‘Unconditional Apology’
Ever since news came in that the Goa Police had registered a rape case against Tarun Tejpal in response to a young journalist’s charges of sexual assault against him, there was a change of stance, instead of this being touted as an “internal matter” or counter questions about whether or not one was an aggrieved party, we now suddenly started hearing insinuations about there being different versions of what had actually happened, and whether what had earlier been dismissed as an “untoward incident” was, in the words of Tehelka managing editior, “consensual or non-consensual”.
The following text from Tarun Tejpal, purportedly sent to his friends, also did the rounds today:
All my actions so far were out of an attempt to preserve the girl’s dignity and on Shoma’s adamantine feminist-principle insistence that I keep correct form by apologising. The truth is it was a fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!) Now that a committee has been announced the truth will come out. As will the cctv footage. My life and work have been trashed on a total lie.
Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury mentioned on NDTV that Tejpal and she were being judged solely on the “wrong tonality” of the earlier leaked emails, and that the unconditional apology that Tarun Tejpal had given the complainant could perhaps help place Tehelka’s behaviour in context.
Tejpal himself put out a statement:
There have been serious allegations cast on me in this last week, and unfortunately as sometimes happens in life, the complete truth and the need to do the honorable thing can come into conflict. In this case this anguish was accentuated by the fact that very many intimate people, professional and personal, were involved.
For four days, as demanded by Shoma Chaudhury, the managing editor, and the recipient of the complaint, I have tried to do what was honorably demanded of me. On Tuesday I issued an apology for the alleged misconduct, as desired by the journalist through Shoma Chaudhury. On Wednesday I stepped down from the editorship of Tehelka and removed myself from the office premises. On Thursday I learnt of the formation of the complaints committee.
I offer my fullest cooperation to the police and all other authorities, and look to presenting all the facts of this incident to it. I also urge the committee and the police to obtain, examine and release the cctv footage so that the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed.
Tarun J Tejpal
We have been able to get a copy of the “unconditional apology” that Tarun Tejpal wrote to the young journalist on Tuesday, November 19, which, inter alia, clearly states:
I apologise unconditionally for 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.
That even this ‘unconditional apology’ itself was insincere becomes clear from the response to this email by the young journalist who writes categorically:
The use of the words “sexual liaison” is a clear misrepresentation of facts, and an attempt to obfuscate the truth — that he sexually molested me, on two separate occasions and that he violated my bodily integrity and trust.
Clearly, we need to see today’s spin about a “totally consensual encounter” in the context of the whole sequnce of events, the flipflops in various emails and TV appearances, and the following emails that provide a pretty detailed account of what actually happened on the nights of Nov 7 and 8.
Postscript: Edited to add at 10:46 PM: the Indian Express is carrying a report by Ritu Sarin: It’s a lie, I am being framed, says Tarun Tejpal, blaming “political forces driving much of it”:
“It is a totally mendacious account of what happened, in its details, in its tonalities, in its very suggestion of non-consensus.”
“In cold light of day, much of it will sound unsavoury, but now the inquiry will reveal it all”
Tejpal also said that the allegation by the journalist that he told her the best way to keep her job was by not resisting his advances, was a “half-truth”. “This is one of the half-truths she’s voiced. Nothing of this, as she states, was said or intended,” he said.
“My lawyers know I am being framed, and are also aware of the political forces driving much of it now,” he added.
Full text of the email sent by Tarun Tejpal to the young journalist on November 19, 2013. The journalist’s response of November 21 follows this email:
This is the hardest thing I will ever do in my life. You are a young woman I have been very proud of, as a colleague’s daughter, and then as a colleague in my own office. I have watched you grow and mature professionally into a journalist of great integrity and promise.
It wrenches me beyond describing, therefore, to accept that I have violated that long-standing relationship of trust and respect between us and I apologise unconditionally for 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.
I understand the extreme distress you have been feeling and if regret could turn time back, the force of mine would surely place us all back in a space and time before this terrible lapse.
I know you feel I used my position as Editor, Tehelka to force my attention on you, and I acknowledge that I did at one point say to your contention that I was your boss, “That makes it simpler,” but I do want to put on record that the moment those words escaped my lips, I retracted them saying “I withdraw that straight away – no relationship of mine has anything at all, ever, to do with that”. I want to reiterate that again today: despite my colossal lapse, working and succeeding in Tehelka will never be predicated on anyone acquiescing to anything untoward. It never has and never will. Having said that though, I acknowledge that there is an inherent disbalance of power in my position as editor-in-chief and you as an employee of Tehelka and there is absolutely no ground or circumstance in which I should have violated the propriety and trust embedded in that relationship.
Tehelka has a proud legacy and body of work, to which you yourself and legions of other journalists have contributed. As the founder and editor-in-chief, I have helmed and nurtured this proud institution, and I cannot imagine what insanity drove me to compromise these long, proud years of trust and public work.
There are many, many reasons, therefore, why I am smothered with regret. But I want you to know that foremost among them is the fact that I have hurt you and broken your trust in me, and that of many others around me. I have often spoken for the absolute rights and freedoms of women, and it shames me beyond words, to find myself located in this awful context. I would say it was a moment of insanity, except that would mean evading responsibility for it, and that I will not do. I hold myself, first and last, accountable.
I know Shoma has urged you not to leave Tehelka, and even as I acknowledge that I have lost the right to say this to you, I would urge you not to leave either. At the very least, I would like to assure you that the space to do your work proudly and freely, without worrying about fear or favour, will always be available to you here.
For long years, you have known a different man, a man and editor you trusted and were proud to know. In extreme contrition, I would like you to know that but for this unconscionable lapse, that man still exists and holds you in highest regard.
If an apology can heal, please consider this an unconditional one.
In response to this email, the complainant responded on November 21, in an email to Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury that Tejpal’s account of what happened on the 7th and 8th of November differed from hers on the following counts:
1. The use of the words “sexual liaison” is a clear misrepresentation of facts, and an attempt to obfuscate the truth — that he sexually molested me, on two separate occasions and that he violated my bodily integrity and trust.
2. He did not even once, utter the words “I withdraw that straight away – no relationship of mine has anything at all, ever, to do with that”. I have written this in my response to his ‘private’ email to me as well, which is cc’d to you and my colleagues who have known about him sexually molesting me from the 7th of November.
She went on to also point out:
In conversations with my colleagues you have said that you do not contest the facts of my testimony, which is why you do not see it necessary to constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines in this case. However, given that his apology presents an entirely different version from my testimony, i.e. attempts to establish that a “sexual liaison” took place as opposed to him sexually molesting me, I insist once again in the spirit of justice, to constitute an anti sexual harassment cell in accordance with the Vishakha guidelines to investigate this matter.
She also asked Chaudhury to:
publicly withdraw your statement that I or other Tehelka journalists are “satisfied”, since my colleagues do not know the full extent of what was done to me, and I am deeply hurt that as my mentor, you could suggest in any way that this blatant misrepresentation of facts would be satisfactory to me.