Women's Fightback: The Tarun Tejpal case - rape victim on trial

Submitted by AWL on 1 June, 2021 - 2:57 Author: Katy Dollar
Tarun Tejpal

In India, a judge has thrown out charges against journalist and publisher Tarun Tejpal, accused of raping a female colleague. The allegations attracted a lot of attention as it involved a major media figure. His magazine was one of the leaders in Indian investigative journalism, his publishing house India Ink represented major figures, and he was often seen with friends Arundhati Roy and VS Naipaul.

Not content with acquitting the accused, the judge went on to question the character of the alleged victim. The 527-page judgment reads like a checklist of sexist tropes on rape victims.

Judge Kshama Joshi wrote that in photographs taken after the alleged assault, the young woman was “smiling and looked happy, normal, in [a] good mood”.

“She did not look disturbed, reserved, terrified or traumatised in any way even though this was immediately after she claims to have been sexually assaulted,” the judge wrote.

“It’s unbelievable that she forcefully struggled but sustained no injuries,”

She questioned why the woman had told three male colleagues about the alleged assault and not her female roommate, why the woman didn’t cry in the presence of her friends, and why she didn’t “demonstrate any kind of normative behaviour”.

Lawyer Payal Chawla said the judgement was “not just character assassination, it’s a massacre of her character”.

“The woman partying in a bar and dancing with a drink in her hand seemed to have irked the judge. It seems like the young woman’s morality was on trial, and not whether there had been a rape,” the lawyer said.

The judgment begins by questioning the journalist’s previous work on rape. The judge’s bias suggests a “capable, intelligent, independent person” conversant with the amended law and “rape cases after the Nirbhaya case” could not be a rape victim. The rape complaint was likely not true because the victim wrote about the rape law, interviewed rape survivors, won a book grant and knew feminist lawyers. It was unsafe to rely on her testimony, since she is well-educated, a good writer, a journalist, proficient in English and above all understands rape law. This would all be true for the accused too, but such knowledge was not seen to prove his dishonesty.

Mr Tejpal’s acquittal surprised many. His description of events had shifted somewhat, from initially saying their encounters were consensual, to blaming them on “a lapse of judgement” and “a misreading of the situation” which had “led to an unfortunate incident”, and then retracting an earlier statement in which he’d said he had “attempted a sexual liaison with [the alleged victim] despite [her] clear reluctance” — saying he had been forced to issue it in the first place.

In court papers, he described the incidents in the lift as “drunken banter”.

The 2013 criminal law amendment was supposed to change this prevent such “trying” of rape victims through their sexual past. The Goa government, which has appealed the decision, stated that the acquittal order was “erroneous in law” and “unsustainable”. The High Court judge agreed and said he would hear the case on 2 June.

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