The complete email trail of the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case
Here are some excerpts from what transpired in communication between the alleged victim, Tejpal and Chaudhury.
Here are some excerpts from what transpired in communication between the alleged victim, Tejpal and Chaudhury.
The Tehelka story unfolded in a series of leaked internal emails over a period of roughly 20 days. Here are some excerpts from what transpired in official and unofficial communication between the alleged victim, Tejpal and former Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury. Please note that most of the emails were not officially released to the media.
Complainant's letter to Shoma Chaudhury alleging sexual assault
On the night of 7th November 2013, the opening night of Tehelka's Think festival, I had discharged my duties for the day as the chaperone for Mr Robert De Niro. As it was Mr De Niro and his daughter's first night in Goa and at the festival, my editor in chief Mr Tarun Tejpal accompanied Mr De Niro, Drena De Niro (his daughter) and I to Mr De Niro's suite to wish him goodnight. (As his chaperone, my work was to be available all day to Mr De Niro and Drena, take them sightseeing, make sure they were well looked after in Goa and at the Hyatt - until they retired to their suite at night.)
As we left the suite, Mr Tejpal and I were in conversation - I have known him since I was a child, he had worked closely with my father who was also a journalist, and after my father's accident Mr Tejpal had always been a paternal figure to me. He was responsible for offering me my first job, and was always just a phone call away whenever I needed his advice on a story or life. His daughter, XXX Tejpal and I are very close friends as well.
As we made our way out of the elevator of Block 7 at the Grand Hyatt, Mr Tejpal held my arm and pulled me back into the lift. He said - "Let's go wake up Bob" (Mr De Niro) and I asked him why he wanted to do that. I then realized that Mr Tejpal was simply pressing buttons on the lift's panel to make the elevator stay in circuit, preventing it from stopping anywhere, and for the doors to open.
At this point, he began to kiss me - from the first moment of his doing so, I asked him to stop, citing several reasons, including my friendship to XXX, my closeness to his family, the fact that he had known me since I was a child, the fact that I worked for Tehelka and for Shoma Chaudhury - who is my managing editor and mentor. It was like talking to a deaf person. Mr Tejpal lifted my dress up, went down on his knees and pulled my underwear down. He attempted to perform oral sex on me as I continued to struggle and hysterically asked him to stop. At that moment he began to try and penetrate me with his fingers, I became scared and pushed him hard and asked him to stop the lift. He would not listen. The lift stopped on the ground floor as Mr Tejpal's hands were on me and could not press the button for yet another floor to keep it in circuit. As soon as the doors opened, I picked up my underwear and began walking out of the elevator rapidly - he was still following me, asking me what the matter was.
I said "It's all wrong. I work for you and Shoma." He said first "It's alright to be in love with more than one person," and then he said, "Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job." I was walking still faster, blinking back tears.
By this time, we had made our way from Block 7 to the main lawns of the Grand Hyatt, where I walked into the grassy dinner area full of people and Mr Tejpal walked off towards the performance area. Right as soon as he was out of sight, I took a taxi back to my hotel - the International Centre for Goa, where the Tehelka staff was staying, and went to the room where XXX and YYY were staying. I also called another friend and colleague - ZZZ to the room and told them what had occurred. While the four of us were talking in the balcony, Mr Tejpal sent me a text message from his personal phone number at 1.17 am, which said "The fingertips".
This was the extent he had managed to penetrate me before I pushed him and ran out of the lift. I told the people with me on the balcony about this. Some of us considered resigning as soon as Think was over. I called my boyfriend XXX in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from XXX's iPhone and told him what had happened.
I was confused, hurt and really, really scared. At that point I did not want to lose my job. And so the next morning, I went about my work determined not to give Mr Tejpal or Tehelka a reason to fire me, as I was sure they would do once this story got out. At a few points of the day, I discussed the events of the previous night with XXX, YYY and ZZZ, who were concerned about me after the state they had seen me in the previous night. In the afternoon, I accompanied Mr De Niro, his daughter, Sir VS Naipaul, Lady Naipaul and Mr Tejpal's wife to the Governor's bungalow for lunch.
Given the company we were in, I did not make any mention of what had occurred to Ms XXX, Mr Tejpal's wife. Once I had escorted Mr De Niro back to his room post lunch, he expressed a desire to attend one of the sessions at the Main Hall. I brought him down to the Green Room, where Mr Tejpal found us, and asked me to bring Mr De Niro back down for Mr Amitabh Bachchan's session as he wanted the two to meet. I took Mr De Niro and his daughter shopping to Panjim, and brought them back in time for Mr Bachchan's session as instructed. Once the session was done, Mr Tejpal, Mr De Niro, Mr Bachchan and a few other members of the film industry, lawyers, politicians etc were supposed to meet at the Block 7 Grand Club for drinks.
I escorted Mr De Niro and Drena to this bar, told them I would return to my hotel, change, and be right back. While I was getting dressed at my hotel, Mr Tejpal called me from XXX's phone (XXX is the caretaker and manager of Tehelka's Bombay office premises) and asked me where I was. I informed him I was just about to leave for the Grand Hyatt. In the taxi I noticed he had already sent me two text messages on my phone which said "Where r u?" at 8:29and then "??" at 8:42. from his personal number.
I replied with the following messages: "On my way to the lounge" 8.42 pm, "Had to sort out a lost package for Drena and get a bit presentable. See you in 10" at 8.44 pm and "Call XXX she needs you" at 8.47 pm as XXX had messaged me asking to help her find Tarun. At this point I was trying to be as normal and professional as possible and somehow get through my duties.
Five minutes later, as I was walking into the Grand Club at Block 7, Mr Tejpal was coming out of the lounge. He pointed at me asking me to stop. I was already worried that I was late and that Mr De Niro had asked for me. Mr Tejpal came to me and said "Come up with me, we have to get something from Bob's room". I was frightened that this would lead to a repeat of the previous night and so I said, "What does he need? I'll go get it." I was scared of getting into the lift with him again, and more terrified that he was going to try and take me into a room this time. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift (which is barely a few steps away from the lobby of block 7 where he had asked me to wait).
When the doors closed, he started to try and kiss me again. I said "Tarun, please, no, just stop," he pulled away, smiled, patted my cheek and said "Why? Ok. I'll stop." I said again "This just isn't right. XXX is my best friend. I had lunch with XXXX today."
He smiled again and just for a moment I thought I had appealed to his better sense. I turned away from him, desperately waiting for the door to open (there are only three floors in Block 7 (G, 1 and 2), we were between floors). Within seconds of my turning around, he started to lift up my dress. He lifted it all the way up and said "You're unbelievable". The door opened on the second floor, on Mr De Niro's floor - and he said again - "The universe is telling us something" to which I said "I'm taking the stairs" and started to walk out. He pulled me back in, sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria - by this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic, he did not touch me until the lift reached the ground floor. Right as the doors were about to open, he patted my behind once more.
I walked out of the lift, went to the Grand Club and immediately informed XXX that Mr Tejpal had tried to molest me again. XXX said "Again? What the f*** is wrong with him?" He was completely disgusted and said once more that we should just resign immediately. As I was to accompany Mr De Niro to the dining area, I somehow composed myself. Mr De Niro was mobbed by fans - and I had to take him away from the main garden to the Capiz Bar. I was sitting at the Capiz Bar with Mr De Niro and his daughter when XXX Tejpal came there to join us.
This was the first time the two of us had really met since the incident of the previous night. Since I had moved to Mumbai about a year and a half ago, XXX had grown to become one of my closest friends. She lives across the road from my house in Mumbai and barely a day had passed when the two of us did not meet or talk to each other constantly. She was sitting beside me, and Mr De Niro was absorbed in conversation with his daughter. I could not keep something of this magnitude from her. I told her she would hate me for what I was telling her - but that Mr Tejpal had tried to molest me on these two separate occasions. I said "He tried to shove his tongue down my throat and then took my panties off", when XXX replied saying "I saw him do this to a woman when I was thirteen, so it doesn't surprise me anymore," but she was clearly disgusted.
XXX left the Capiz Bar right after this. In half an hour, Mr De Niro and Drena asked to be dropped back to their room. They were extremely upset at the day's events because Mr De Niro had all but been assaulted by fans at the dinner table, and they asked me to convey this to Mr Tejpal. When I came down from Block 7, I found Mr Tejpal sitting at a table with several people and called him away from the table, but still in full view of everyone, so I could relay Mr De Niro's message privately.
I said "Bob is really upset about tonight, he got mobbed really badly.." to which Mr Tejpal replied "I don't give a f*** about Bob. How could you tell XXX what happened?" I said "Tarun, I told you XXX and I are close and what you did wasn't okay, I had to tell her," to which he said "She's my daughter. Do you even understand what the word means? Just get away from me, I'm so f*** ing pissed off with you right now."
I left from the spot crying, found XXX outside her room in the main performance area and asked her what she had said to her father. She said "There was no other way. As soon as you told me I wished you hadn't, but you can't tell me what to say to him - I told him to keep it in his pants." I said "I'm probably going to lose my job over this", she agreed, but also said "It'll be a bad phase but it'll pass." On this night as well, I left the Grand Hyatt and went to my hotel, found XXX, XXX and XXX and told them what had happened. I also called my boyfriend and told him that Mr Tejpal was aware of the fact that I wasn't staying quiet, and that he was extremely angry that I had told his daughter. The next morning, I called my mother and told her everything that had happened.
Everyone was most worried for my safety and advised me to leave Think as soon as possible - however since my day's work involved me staying away from the Grand Hyatt and staying at a completely different part of Goa for the day with Mr De Niro and his daughter, I felt temporarily safe. At this time Mr Tejpal sent me the following texts from his personal number.
1. "I hope you told XXX that it was just drunken banter, and nothing else"
To which I replied - "I told her we were both drunk" - because it was true that everyone had had a few drinks on the first night. But not the second, when he assaulted me minutes after I had reached the Grand Hyatt. However, this was the first time Mr Tejpal had said anything to me after lashing out at me the previous night, and I was still very afraid of him.
He then sent me a second message:
2. "And just banter, nothing else" - to which I did not reply, because there was no way what he had done to me could have been described as "banter".
Sensing that I had clammed up at his attempt to sugar-coat what really happened, he sent me a third message:
3. "Why?? What's happened??"
I did not reply to this message. Within minutes, he sent me a fourth message, one that convinced me he saw absolutely nothing wrong with what he had done, and was in fact now trying to shame me for talking to XXX:
4. "I can't believe u went and mentioned even the smallest thing to her. What an absence of any understanding of a parent child relationship."
After this message, I made sure to stay away from Mr Tejpal except when we were in extremely public situations only - such as the Speakers Green Room at the Hyatt, or the lobby of the hotel. That evening as well, I steered completely clear of him. He made no mention of anything that had occurred the next day, and the only thought on my mind was to get Mr De Niro on his plane and leave Think. I had to speak to Mr Tejpal several times on Sunday the 9th of November to coordinate Mr De Niro's travel plans, but in these calls he made no mention of anything that had occurred. Once I dropped Mr De Niro to the Goa Airport at 4.30 pm, I had no further contact with Mr Tejpal.
However, on 16.11.2013, Mr Tejpal messaged me a number of times
1. "Have you spoken to XXX? Is she Ok?"
To which I replied: "Why would she be ok about the fact that you sexually assaulted her best friend, that is me?"
2. "What's with saying this awful stuff??"
To which I replied: Do not send me any messages. You are lying and you know that.
3. "Oh is that so? I cherished you like one of my best kids always, all these years; and because of one drunken banter you so easily say these awful things.
To which I replied: It was twice Tarun, not once and it was no banter. You did the most horrible things to me and I certainly was not drunk. I asked you to stop repeatedly.
4. "Oh so that's what you told XXX. No wonder she's so madly upset. It's ok. Am not going to contest anything with her. Will let time and my love heal what it can."
5. "Don't think I've been more saddened in the longest time"
I have no doubt that Mr Tejpal was trying to establish his innocence in a devious manner. If he needed to get in touch with his daughter, he could have done so anytime he desired, through his wife or daughter or nephew or anyone from his family without messaging me about her, or falsely claiming that all that happened was 'a drunken banter'. This was no banter, it was most clearly sexual assault.
As a reporter for Tehelka who writes on violence against women, I suddenly find myself in the horrific situation of discovering what it is like to be on the receiving end of this violence from a powerful man I once deeply admired and respected. I truly hope that the idea of Tehelka is still intact - and that you will conduct an inquiry into this matter at the earliest.
Excerpts from the informal email Tejpal purportedly sent the woman on November 19, 2013 a day after she formally complained to Shoma Chaudhury of the sexual assault
The context that ill-fated evening, of our conversation, as you will recall, was heavily loaded. We were playfully and flirtatiously talking about desire, sex; you were telling me the Bob Geldof story in graphic detail, and about XXX (her male friend), and the near-impossibility of fidelity...
(You were telling me) of the aftermath of meeting me one stormy evening in my office when I was sitting watching the thunderclouds.
I also want to clarify that yes, you did say at one point that I was your boss, and I did reply "that makes it simpler" but in the very same breath and sentence I said to you "I withdraw that straight away - no relationship of mine has anything at all, ever, to do with that". It was in this frivolous, laughing mood that the encounter took place.
I had no idea that you were upset, or felt I had been even remotely non-consensual, until XXX (his daughter) came and spoke to me the next night. I was shocked and devastated at the time. Both because you felt I had imposed on you (which had neither been my reading or intention), and because I felt I had been totally irresponsible and foolish to have anything furtive to do with my daughter's intimate friend. At that very moment I was filled with shame, and still am.
You have made it clear that I read it all wrong, and I will not dispute it, nor underplay your anger and hurt. This is easily the worst moment of my life - something ostensibly playful gone so horribly wrong, damaging of all that I hold dear in life, from people to principles. I ask you to forgive and forget it. I will meet your mom and apologise to her too - and (the male friend) if you so wish.
The rebuttal from the woman
The conversation from that night was not "heavily loaded" or "flirtatious" - you were talking about "sex' or "desire" because that is what you usually choose to speak to me about, unfortunately, never my work, which if you had had occasion to read, you might not have attempted to sexually molest me, and certainly would have known that there was no way that I would stay silent about it and just vanish.
There was no "aftermath" of that evening with the "thunderclouds" - this is exactly what happened: I wanted to discuss the first story I had written about a rape survivor with you. xxxx called me to your office, I walked in and you were lying on the couch with the lights off. I asked you if you wanted me to turn the lights on, and you refused. You continued to lie on the couch. I sat on a chair across from you in the same room and told you the survivor's story. I wish again, that you remembered the professional reason I had met you that evening, instead of the storm and the thunderclouds.
You never, even once uttered the following words: "I withdraw that straight away - no relationship of mine has anything at all, ever, to do with that'. If your attempt at sexual molestation were really as consensual as you seem to imply that it was Tarun, why would you have suddenly switched to speaking in legal terms in a "frivolous, laughing" moment?
This is what non-consent constitutes: the moment you laid a hand on me, I started begging you to stop. I invoked every single person and principle that was important to us - (Tejpal's daughter, wife, Chaudhury) - the fact that you were my employer, to make you stop. You refused to listen. In fact, you went ahead and decided to molest me again on the following night. We have often spoken of "what turns men into beasts" at Tehelka edit meetings, you yourself have commissioned several stories on this. It is this - not being able to take no for an answer.
Not only did you lash out at me verbally for telling (Tejpal's daughter), you also sent me a text message the next morning saying "I can't believe you went and told her even the smallest thing. What a complete absence of understanding of a parent-child relationship".
Tarun, I can't believe you think molesting an employee your daughter's age, who is also your daughter's friend, is something you'd describe as "the smallest thing". What an absence of understanding of what Tehelka stands for.
Unfortunately, your desire to apologise to (the male friend) only reeks of your own patriarchal notion that men own and possess female bodies.... The only people you owe an apology to are your employees at Tehelka, for desecrating their and my faith in you. Please do not attempt any further personal correspondence with me - you lost that privilege when you violated my trust and body.
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.
This may come as a rude surprise to many of you. There is a letter from Tarun appended to this mail. There has been an untoward incident, and though he has extended an unconditional apology to the colleague involved, Tarun will be recusing himself as the editor of Tehelka for the next six months.
Tehelka is an institution he has built, and which many journalists both current and former, have contributed to in the most profound ways. Throughout our 13-year career, we have proudly articulated and tried to live by the highest standards. We have also believed that when there is a mistake or lapse of any kind, one can only respond with right thought and action.
In keeping with this stated principle, and the collective values we live by, Tarun will be stepping down for the period mentioned. This is a hard time for all of us, and I hope all of you will stand by the institution.
My dear Shoma,
The last few days have been most testing, and I squarely take the blame for this. A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident that rails 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. Tehelka has been born and built, day on day, with my blood, toil, tears and sweat, and that of many others, against near-insurmountable odds.
It has lived for and fought the big battles of our time, always on the side of the oppressed and the wronged, always on the side of equity and justice. Its voice has travelled the world and changed policy and perceptions. It has been a beacon for those who would do the right thing. Through bad, and worse, times I have protected Tehelka and its journalists from the inevitable demands of power and corporations. I have always allowed every journalist's sense of the right to flower and express itself. No one has ever been asked to do what they don't believe in.
I have always held that Tehelka the institution, and its work, have always been infinitely more important than any of us individuals. It is tragic, therefore, that in a lapse of judgment I have hurt our own high principles.
Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words.
I must do the penance that lacerates me. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months. You have always been stellar, Shoma, and even as I apologise to you and all my other colleagues, for this unfortunate incident, I leave Tehelka in your more than capable and safe hands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In furtherance to Tehelka's acceptance of Tarun Tejpal's recusal from editorship of Tehelka on November 20th, which followed the official unconditional apology he had mailed to the journalist concerned on November 19th, Tehelka has now constituted a formal complaints committee, in accordance to Vishaka guidelines, to be presided over by Urvashi Butalia, eminent feminist and publisher, to investigate the matter. The other members of the committee will be announced shortly.
In addition to this, Tehelka will ensure setting up a formal complaints committee, according to section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013), an institutional mechanism that was sorely missing in
Shoma Chaudhury,Managing Editor,Tehelka
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.
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.
"It is a totally mendacious account of what happened, in its details, in its tonalities, in its very suggestion of non-consensus," Tejpal said. "In cold light of day, much of it will sound unsavoury, but now the inquiry will reveal it all," he told The Indian Express. The Express quoted Tejpal as saying 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 letter of resignation letter by the journalist to Shoma Chaudhury:
I am resigning from my position as ____ at Tehelka magazine, with immediate effect, because Tehelka's Editor-in-Chief Tarun Tejpal sexually molested me on two occasions in November this year.
I am deeply traumatized by the lack of support offered by the organization. In such circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to work for this organization.
At this moment, I would like to present the following facts to support my claim:
1. I was sexually molested by Tarun Tejpal on two occasions, the 7th and 8th of November 2013 at the annual Think festival in Goa this year. In the emails of apology that followed my complaint to you about Mr Tejpal's grievous sexual misconduct, he admitted to the fact, and apologized unconditionally.
2. I requested, at the very least, for Mr Tejpal to acknowledge this apology publicly to the staff and bureau of Tehelka. While I did not want this acknowledgement to have graphic details, I asked that the words "sexual misconduct" be included. In a phone conversation with me, you asked that he be recused from doing so because he had already admitted to sexual molestation in his emails, and because we needed to "protect the institution". In this conversation, I said, "I trust you to do the right thing".
3. In the public acknowledgement sent to the bureau, Mr Tejpal and you referred to his act of sexual violation as "an untoward incident" - this was not an attempt to "protect the institution" but in fact, an attempt to cover up what had really occurred-the act of sexual molestation, an admission of the facts that Mr Tejpal had "attempted sexual liaison" with me (to quote his email) on two occasions despite my "reluctance to receive such attention". Further, in conversations with my colleagues, you admitted to them that you did not see the need to set up an anti-sexual harassment cell as per the Vishaka guidelines, because you did not contest my version of what had occurred on the nights of 7th and 8th of November.
4. In your appearances on national news channels, you first attempted to establish that I was "satisfied" with Tehelka's actions, when only one of my immediate demands from the organization had been met-namely, that Mr Tejpal had unconditionally apologized for sexually molesting me in private emails to you and I. His public acknowledgement of the apology did not include any reference to his grievous sexual misconduct, and you had still failed to set up an anti-sexual harassment cell as per Vishaka guidelines. This could, in no way, have left me "satisfied". Further, I had responded to both of Mr Tejpal's emails (cc'd to you and the three colleagues I had confided everything to since the 7th of November) clarifying:
A. that his behaviour could not be described as "sexual liaison", and that was in fact an act of sexual molestation and a violation of bodily integrity and trust, since it occurred (by his own admission) despite my refusal.
B. A sexual act carried out without consent cannot be justified on any basis.
C. That after Mr Tejpal (by his own admission) had referred to his position of power over me in the organization, he did not withdraw this statement as his emails allege.
You continued to ignore my rebuttals to these emails, while insisting, in public, that I was satisfied.
5. You are now attempting to establish that Mr Tejpal has "another version" of events (as surely, any sexual predator does), and that the "encounter" may have been consensual or non-consensual. Meanwhile, on the night of the 22nd of November, an immediate member of Mr Tejpal's family went to my mother's house to ask her the details of my legal counsel, and what I "wanted" as a result of my complaint about being sexually molested by Mr Tejpal. In emails and text messages sent to his friends, read out on national news channels, Mr Tejpal is now claiming that what occurred was a "fleeting, consensual encounter"; and that he wrote his apologies to me because of your "adamantine feminist principles".
Over the past years, we have collectively defended the rights of women, written about custodial rape, sexual molestation at the workplace, spoken out harshly against the culture of victim blame and the tactical emotional intimidation and character assassination of those who dare to speak out against sexual violence.
At a time when I find myself victim to such a crime, I am shattered to find the Editor in Chief of Tehelka, and you- in your capacity as Managing Editor- resorting to precisely these tactics of intimidation, character assassination and slander.
Given the sequence of events since the 7th of November, it is not just Mr Tejpal who has failed me as an employer-but Tehelka that has failed women, employees, journalists and feminists collectively.
Please consider my resignation effective immediately.
It is unfortunate that your resignation from Tehelka comes under these circumstances. As you have said, we have stood together for women's rights, and today for me to be seen in opposition to you is a real travesty by any account. In the absence of an existing official grievance redressal mechanism in office, along Vishaka guidelines, when this crisis hit, I acted on instant outrage and solidarity for you as a woman and a colleague.
My responses may not have reflected the correct formal procedures but the intent cannot be doubted. To feel a sense closure, you had asked for a written apology from Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal; an acknowledgement of this apology to be sent to office; and the setting up of an anti-sexual harassment cell in Tehelka. Within one day of your complaint, you had the written apology. Tarun stepped down the next day. After this, the process of setting up the anti-sexual harassment committee was begun. I asked you to suggest names as well. You are yet to give names of your nominees. There were only two days to act on your complaint before the story broke in the press. I believe the taken actions strongly count as my standing by you.
Post this, things have been misconstrued and have snowballed exponentially in the media, based on half-facts and selective leaks. In your initial conversations with me, you had wanted redressal from within the institution in a way that would acknowledge the gravity of your complaint, yet protect your privacy. I proceeded with this in mind. You, above all others, in the clamour surrounding us today, know the truth of my actions in support of you.
You have accused me of many things in your resignation letter. This is not the time to enter into a detailed point-counter point exercise with you. There are, however, a few things that must be set straight, particularly given that I am being publicly accused of a 'cover-up.' Firstly, the written apology was forwarded to your three journalist confidantes. This cannot be read as an attempt to hush-up things. On 19 November, I called you to check whether you an acknowledgement of Tarun's apology should now be sent to the Tehelka staff. I also strongly urged you to continue working in Tehelka, if you wanted to.
You said you needed a week to think it through and asked me to hold-off the acknowledgment till then. This is the only reason an acknowledgement of the apology was not sent to the staff and bureau immediately. Regarding your assertion in your resignation letter that I am only "now" attempting to establish that Tarun has "another version": this is factually untrue. It was recorded in my first email that he said he had 'misread the situation'. This 'other version' is also on record on 19 November in the personal email from Tarun to you, which you copied to the three journalists and me in your reply.
Subsequently, this version was also discussed on the phone between you and me. Questions have been asked about why I did not go to the police. In our conversation, you had mentioned that you had considered this option but did not want to go that route. I thought I should respect that and had no reason to disbelieve this, as you had already spoken to journalists about your sexual assault, and both they, and you, could have gone to the police in the ten days that transpired before you brought your complaint to me. Once the enquiry committee took the matter into its hands, its recommendations would have been followed and the course of law would have taken over. In so far as the issues you have raised over Tarun's recusal letter, and my use of the words "untoward incident" or "satisfied", I have already been on national television both accepting and explaining how and why the vocabulary of this was inadequate. You also have emails from me, copied to the three journalists, on Thursday, 20 November, explaining this.
I accept that you may have found expressions I used, verbal or written, inappropriate. I am sorry about this, and only say that notwithstanding the mildness perceived in my language, I took strong steps to ensure that there could be no possible silencing of the issue. Regarding your objections to the wording of Tarun's written apology, you received this email on Tuesday afternoon, 19 November.
You mailed wanting phrases changed on 21 November, after the press storm triggered by the leak.
By then, events were too fast-paced, to address your concerns. After Wednesday night, 20 November, we haven't spoken or communicated in any way, other than through emails. The suggestion that I am involved in any attempt to intimidate you or your family is absolutely untrue and uncalled for. The same goes for your claims that I have indulged in character assassination or slander against you. From the moment I received your complaint, my actions, were driven by outrage on your behalf, urgent concern for you, and a desire to assuage your sense of injury.
In this, contrary to assertions in the media, I was, in fact, demonstrably driven to honour your word above any other. To this extent, I, rightly or wrongly, did not even cross-check your account with the other journalists you had confided in, until you had been given the official apology you sought. At the end, you have accused not just Mr. Tejpal, but Tehelka of failing "women, employees, journalists and feminists collectively". This accusation unduly extrapolates the events of the last week with an institution whose journalists, staff and body of work have nothing to do with it. Today, despite my immediate and assertive actions in support of you, I stand wrongly defaced and accused of having abandoned the public values I uphold in my work.
This leaves me inexpressibly dismayed. I wish you well in the future.
Shoma Chaudhury's letter of resignationon November 29, 2013
This has been a damaging time for all associated with Tehelka. Since the devastating allegation was first brought to my notice on 18th November, I have taken a series of actions in response to this complaint. To my mind, I acted on instant outrage and solidarity for our colleague as a woman and co-worker.
After the first steps to immediately address her expressed needs, the process of setting up the anti-sexual harassment committee was begun. There were only two days to act on the complaint before the story broke in the press. Post this, things have been misconstrued and have snowballed exponentially in the media, based on half-facts and selective leaks. In the next stage, once the committee was formed, the law would have taken its course according to the findings and recommendations.
Over the past week, I have been accused of an attempt to "cover-up" and for not standing by my feminist positions. While I accept that I could have done many things differently and in a more measured way, I reject the allegations of a cover-up because in no way could the first actions that were taken be deemed suppression of any kind. As for my feminist positions, I believe I acted in consonance with them by giving my colleague's account precedence over everything else.
However, despite this, as a result of what's transpired over the past few days my integrity has repeatedly been questioned by people from our fraternity and, in fact, by the public at large. I would like to take cognizance of this.I have worked hard for Tehelka for many years and what we have stood for is very dear to me and I hold it in high esteem. I do not want questions raised about my integrity to tarnish the image of Tehelka, which it has done in the past week. Therefore, I resign as Managing Editor with immediate effect.
There are many readers and colleagues who have believed in me and expressed their faith through this very difficult time. I am deeply grateful to them. I will come in to office to close the issue and do the necessary handovers. I cannot express how painful this is for me. It has never been a part of me to give up midway through a challenge. I would have liked to continue at Tehelka to see us through this dark time, but I am no longer sure whether my presence is harming or helping Tehelka. I deeply regret any inadequacies or lack of clarity I may have displayed in my leadership.
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