It is always distressing to hear that a person, who you used to hold in very high regard, has gotten himself embroiled in an immoral or an illegal act of perversion. If he is a famous person, for the world, it’s a fall from grace, a carnal sin committed by a person who stood high moral, ethical and professional ideals. For me, it’s the annihilation of the embodiment of my principles, a crumbling of my faith in goodness, a faith built over a long period of time. Tarun Tejpal’s sexual misconduct with a female colleague has left me feeling cheated, to say the least.
I became a huge fan of Tehelka’s style of journalism as it appealed to me tremendously. Not that I had not tasted the journalistic flavours of other media groups out there – The Week, Outlook, India Today – I have read each one of them over a period of time. But I found them insipid, unable to inspire anything in me. I looked for other options and one fine day stumbled across Tehelka magazine. Their incisive criticisms of the political oversights which affected the poor and the downtrodden immediately arrested my attention. The kind of articles I found on Tehelka – supporting the cause of adivasis who were affected when a big corporate house acquired land for a nuclear power or a hydel-power project without proper rehabilitation, the poor plight of the farmers in famine affected areas, features upholding the rights of workers in factories – coverage of this kind of topics I could not find elsewhere. No other media group seemed to speak so much for the voiceless. This is what hooked me on and made me buy almost every single edition for the next 50 weeks. This religious routine had to be broken when I went for an MBA and became busy with the curriculum, but Tehelka was always a part of me. This unflinching belief came shattering down when I read about how Tarun Tejpal, the man whose brainchild Tehelka was, molested a fellow journalist almost the age of his daughter (not to mention, his daughter’s best friend too).
There is not much to speak on the topic, as enough is being said online by the incisive criticisms of the high-handed way in which the duo of Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury, his second in command, have handled the issue. Hordes of netizens have risen in criticism of the situation not just because of the crime itself, but because of the smug and self-righteous way in which Tarun Tejpal has reacted in what was supposed to be his letter of apology, where he claims to “atone” this “awful misreading of the situation”, this “bad judgement” which has led to “an unfortunate incident”. Shoma took out some salt from her pocket and rubbed it mercilessly on the wound when she claimed to the press that it’s an “internal matter”. Sheer hypocrisy is on display by the harbingers of truth who have always been the first to ask for the strictest punishment for perpetrators of sexual harassment and molestation. Moreover, what Tarun Tejpal did to this young girl, despite her repeated entreaties to not do it, reminding him that she is of his daughter’s age, borders on rape. The email which Tarun sent to Shoma, which was then forwarded by Shoma to the staff of Tehelka, along with an email of her own appended to it, had the sacrosanct language announcing it as an “unfortunate” incident. Had these emails not been pasted on pastebin (http://pastebin.com/nNaWCu3e) online by some insider from Tehelka, the matter would have been suppressed. Apparently, Tarun Tejpal was expecting things to go back to normal when we would return from his 6-month paid sabbatical in some foreign country.
Things are turning hot as Goa police have ordered a preliminary enquiry into the incident which does not require an FIR. (Update: The police have booked an FIR for rape against Tejpal). They are going to question the authorities of the hotel where the incident took place twice in the elevator. CCTV footage should be available with the hotel, and the rumour has it that the footage might get broadcast by some of the news channels. Also, under pressure from the outpouring of opprobrium from all sections of the society, an investigative committee of National Commission for Women has been formed to look into the matter, a little late in the scheme of things. The smug Mr Tejpal may well be shitting in his pants right now.
What good it does? It will crack open the oppressive system of sexual harassment at the workplace, especially in the media industry where apparently it is deeply entrenched. If someone like Tarun Tejpal can go down, it will surely make the earth move under the feet of other such predators who, for the rest of the world, roam around in the guise of a lamb. This will lead to recognition to women rights and empowerment of women in workplaces, something which is urgently required in our still deeply male-centric society. It will give the courage to the victims of such acts to speak out and not keep mum for the fear of losing their jobs. Sadly, it will also undoubtedly lead to the end of the journey of Tehelka as a publication. I can already see an absolute loss of faith in the organization even among avid readers like me. Complete loss of credibility will lead to a bad name for everyone who were involved in the organization and who actually did good work.
Tarun Tejpal’s name was among the two persons, the other being Nelson Mandela, I highlighted under the question “Someone you would chose to travel with in a cross-country trip” in the annexure that I filled while applying for admission to SIBM Pune. His literature inspired me, as did his purported ideals. Thus for me personally, it means something much deeper. It stands for a complete disappearance of faith in a person I believed in so much. It stands for a lie which infests every nook and cranny of our society today, rotting the insides and will lead to a complete implosion one of these days.
It has happened before. Lance Armstrong stood for not just someone who excelled in his profession, but someone who won a fight with a debilitating strain of cancer, and came back to win the Tour de France, the highest honour that there can be for a cyclist and one of the greatest across all sports. His autobiographies inspired many millions to believe in their dreams and pursue them unflinchingly. Sadly, as it turned out, he followed his dreams literally “at any cost”, indulging in doping over a period of many years, and cheating each one of those who believed in him.
Education is something I believe is something which can lift our poor nation out of the cesspit that we are in. A book inspired me to march on the path of educating the poor. “Three Cups of Tea” is a description of the experiences, hardships and successes of Greg Mortensen, who after getting lost in a snowstorm while climbing K2, found himself in a very poor village in an isolated region in northern Pakistan, got inspired and built many schools in the next few years. As it turned out, there were allegations of many inaccuracies in the book regarding the number of schools he built, his inspiring experiences with the villagers and his overall effort. This blanks out all that was said in the book and I felt like an untethered boat without a sail lost in a sea storm. It was heart-breaking to say the least.
I held Tarun Tejpal very highly. But these allegations have shaken my faith in humanity, and in its unbound ability for goodness. Is there any goodness left out there unblemished by lust, unscarred by greed, unsullied by envy and untainted by corruption? Is it so difficult to be good, without a hidden motive, without a hand below the desk receiving some form of reciprocation? Is it no more possible to do good with all your heart, without expecting anything back? Is there no hope for a better world? I know there is. But for now, I’m just gathering my splintered pieces, and will start rebuilding my faith in goodness, piece by piece, brick by brick.