Kavita Srivastava, a Jaipur-based social activist, thinker and People's Union for Civil Liberties member, spoke to rediff.com’s Sheela Bhatt on the issues and implications of the sexual assault case against Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal.
Srivastava said that Tejpal, whom she immensely admired the last many years, should just go to the police station and surrender himself. There is no other alternative, she added.
Here is the edited excerpt of Srivastava’s conversation with rediff.com
“When I heard about the incident, I was in a state of shock. Many of us have been such admirers of the leadership of Tarun Tejpal and Tehelka Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary. There is a principle that those who expose the other side should ensure that there is no opaqueness about themselves. We cannot have double standards.
“I was so pained to read the reporter’s letter. I thought Tejpal should just go and surrender before the police. He did not stand for profit, I thought, he stood for democratic values and justice.
“Under the new criminal law (amendment) act, 2013, what the Tehelka’s lady journalist was subjected to in Goa was rape. You cannot describe it in any other way. Secondly, whether in the judiciary or in the media the way young girls are breaking their silence against sexual violence and demanding dignity at workplace is a revolution.
“Two bastions -- the media and the judiciary -- have refused to implement the Vishakha guidelines set by the Supreme Court to protect women in workplaces. The Vishakha judgment came 16 years ago on August 13, 1997.
“Interestingly, last week we saw young lawyer interns publicly coming out to express themselves -- my deep gratitude to these girls for taking the issue forward. I will not name them, but their fight is important.
“The Tehelka reporter’s mail describing the event was private; we should not name her. I want to emphasise that the reporter communicated about the sexual assault to Chaudhary and action that needed to be taken. I want to ask why the sexual assault was not taken up as a crime. It is a serious offence to not recognise it as a crime.
“I am glad that Tehelka recognises that something should be done. It was done internally, but I think that is not the way to go about it.
“In 1992, Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped in Rajasthan. She was a sathin -- a grass root worker -- under a government scheme. Her case was not moving ahead. The Rajasthan police claimed she was lying. Then Jagori, PUCL, Vishakha, Kali for Women, Rajasthan Voluntary Health Association and Women Rehabilitation Group went to the court seeking immediate relief. They wanted the case to be transferred to the CBI. One of the five prayers to the court was to form the guideline to prevent sexual harassment at workplace.
“Bhanvari was raped because she was trying to prevent child marriage as part of her official duty. She was just doing her work. As a result of the case, Justice J S Verma and Justice Sujata Manohar issued guidelines saying that till the time the Indian Parliament does not legislate the law to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace the Vishakha guidelines will be the law.
“Eventually, after the December 2012 gang-rape in New Delhi, Parliament formulated the law and passed it in 2013. The rules of the law, though, have not been formulated yet because of which it has not entered the statute book. The Vishakha guidelines and the new act define what sexual assault is.
“First time sexual verbal, non-verbal, gestures etc… came to be defined as sexual harassment. It was in framework of human rights abuse and in woman’s case fundamental rights too.
“It is the duty of the employer to provide sexual harassment-free workplace. It is duty of the employer to provide a sexual harassment prevention complaint committee, which is empowered to take suo moto action as well. This was mandatory for every organisation under the Supreme Court’s Vishakha guidelines.
“It is interesting to see that the media houses do not have these… and neither do the corporates. The governments are pushed; so some of them have it. Informal sectors do not have it; the judiciary which formulated this law didn’t set up any such committee.
“The guidelines say that a woman should head it. It should have more than 50 per cent women members. It should have a member from some NGO to bring in kind of independence. It should not become an internal committee, but have objective and outside perspective.
“Also, it says that in a given circumstance if two sexes cannot work together the man should be asked to leave the organisation. Importantly, the guidelines say that in case of serious cases of sexual violence the organisation will facilitate in filing of the criminal case.
“When the Tehelka case happened, under the law, Chaudhary should have passed it on to the committee. But, there was no committee. So she should have helped in filing the FIR. Even that was not done. It is not relevant that the victim was satisfied or not by the ‘internal’ action.
“The fact that Tejpal went for atonement is not done, unacceptable because it is against the principles of natural justice. This is a very serious blunder. It is good that he unconditionally apologised, but how can he decide the punishment that he wants.
“The Tehelka media house was behaving in same ‘shame and honour’ manner as khap panchayats... ‘Let us not come out in public. Let us settle the issue’… that’s the kind of the attitude from them. This is again a very serious blunder by Tehelka. I am glad that the reporter went for outside support and the matter became public.
“Under the new act of 2013 what happened in the elevator is rape and it comes under section 376 (1), which gives a minimum of seven years of imprisonment to even life-term. Many other provisions of law apply in the case as well. It is a straightforward case of rape.
“The Goa police has picked up the evidence; so we should wait. They have accessed the CCTV footage. In such cases, the police can take suo moto action even if the girl has not filed a FIR.
“More importantly, we will have to wait and watch if the reporter is ready to give a statement to the police and the magistrate. She has the right to give or not give. She needs to be given time. She must be undergoing trauma and we should give her time.
“Tehelka has now constituted the complaints committee under Urvashi Butalia. This is the first success of the tragic story. This is extremely significant. Other media houses and corporates should do it too. In India, many girls do not give statements before the police under duress. We should give the Tehelka reporter some time.
“I must add that the dreams that we lived with in our life, these young girls are taking them forward. We have suffered so much sexual aggression in buses, on roads and in offices. These girls, by speaking out, are doing greats service. They are living our dreams. I hope Tehelka will see that Tejpal is subjected to law.”