In any society, there exist a small group of individuals who have the temerity to take injustice to task: they may be journalists, lawyers, activists or simply well-intentioned folks. For them, crimes are not committed by one person against another but by the benefactors of a powerful system upon its most vulnerable. Justice, then, is too important to be left to the discretion of one individual, however aggrieved. It is hard to disagree with this notion – our criminal justice system runs on the sound principle that the State alone can investigate and punish those accused of wrongdoing.
And so A Few Good Men have fought to expose Tarun Tejpal’s sexual assault on a journalist under his wing, with the noble objective of bringing him to book. But these crusaders would do well to remember Colonel Nathan Jessup’s taunt, if only in the movie by the same name: “you can’t handle the truth!”
The truth is this: the journalist who was assaulted sought to address her grievances first and foremost within Tehelka. Even before she could bring to bear on her bosses the full weight of ignoring her complaint, the right-minded public went to town with details of the assault. In return for her courageous act of speaking up, the journalist has been shown to an automated and highly intrusive process which can neither ensure privacy nor punishment against those who assaulted her and played the episode down.
“Whether or not journalist at Tehelka files [a] complaint, the criminal justice system must take note,” declared the Press Club of India. A member of the National Commission for Women suggested since the journalist “seemed to be interested in getting justice, she should go ahead and file an FIR.” Now, the Goa Police Crime Branch has launched an investigation against Mr. Tejpal for the alleged commission of rape – in the process, it hopes to collect the journalist’s e-mail correspondence as well as CCTV footage from the hotel in which the incident occurred.
As with the former intern who “outed” a former Supreme Court judge for harassing her, the Tehelka journalist has been left with few options but to cooperate with a public trial. In due course, she will be confronted by our less-than-effective criminal justice system. Video tapes will mysteriously vanish or be tampered with, and her character will be systematically disparaged. The media will be offered selective leaks from the interrogation of Mr. Tejpal and other witnesses. To maintain control of the public narrative – decisive to the trial – her lawyers will be repeatedly drawn into divulging how gruesome and traumatic this episode was. Above all, the police investigation will also determine the fate of an internal enquiry by Tehelka – it is inconceivable Tarun Tejpal will be punished by his own organisation if errant cops find insufficient evidence to haul him up.
Presumably, the journalist did not complain to her employer to be lauded for courage or plainly to set an example for other women in the media. Those who now highlight her letter to managing editor Shoma Chaudhury in nauseating detail need only glance at its objective: that Tehelka constitute a sexual harassment committee, investigate the matter and elicit a written apology from Mr. Tejpal.
This is not to say she is principally opposed to a criminal investigation under the IPC. The police could verily hold back until Tehelka conducts its own enquiry. Some details about the incident would still leak into the open, but the trial that follows an internal inquiry will not aimed at satiating public consumption. If Mr. Tejpal is found guilty of sexual assault, cops would be driven by the imperative to corroborate the committee’s findings, not contradict them. Most importantly, it would render Tehelka and other media outlets accountable for wrongdoings against its employees, while a court of law can only hold Mr. Tejpal liable to the public for his misconduct.
Much of the support and solidarity that the journalist has received from the public stems from a misplaced view that she is too vulnerable to take on her bosses. Sure, sexual assault is notoriously underreported in India and conditions that facilitate it are systemic, not personal. On the other hand, once an assault victim has turned to the law there is no place for patronage.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 confirms as much. Section 27 of the Act categorises all offences within its ambit as non-cognisable – the police can neither register an FIR nor investigate an incident without a warrant. A court may issue such a warrant only in response to a complaint filed by the aggrieved person or a representative of the internal complaints committee. On the other hand, Mr. Tejpal has been booked by the Goa Police under Sections 354 and 376 of the IPC, both of which constitute cognisable offences that may be investigated suo motu.
To be sure, an internal complaints mechanism too may have its share of flaws. After all, Mr. Tejpal is the editor-in-chief of the organisation that would investigate his misconduct. If the incident is hushed up by Tehelka, it may never see the light of day. This is where public intervention is needed, to ensure the Workplace Harassment Act is implemented properly. The legislation is armed with provisions that would allow the government and the judiciary to impose punitive measures on the magazine for a sloppy investigation.
The imminent criminal investigation affords ample time for Tehelka’s management to bargain with the aggrieved journalist. Those who believe Tarun Tejpal’s “unconditional apology” was prompted by fear of arrest should also take note of his letter purportedly circulated among friends. His confident, yet deniable assertion that the encounter was “totally consensual” is a clear signal to the journalist: back off, or prepare to be
The public should doubtless stand behind the young journalist, now more than ever because Mr. Tejpal has sought to intimidate her. The women’s rights movement has struggled hard to shed the stigma associated with pursuing justice against sexual offences. But “going public” with a complaint should not be a traumatic experience, especially when the law has prescribed an institutional mechanism to protect the victim’s rights while pursuing justice. The sensitisation of society on sexual offences cannot be realised overnight – it has been and continues to be a long, drawn out process. If a victim’s immediate environment cannot promise justice, how can she reliably place her faith in the larger public? The vagaries of the criminal justice system should not stray us from seeing the journalist through her effort to hold Tehelka accountable for its editor’s actions
The tragedy of a legal education is that it prepares you to be a free-spirited being in a regimented world. If John Grisham novels — where the protagonist wins “justice” after a gripping courtroom drama — got you hooked to the law in the first place, chances are law school will nurture that idealism to tell you how the world should be, not how it is. Fresh off the block from learning the rigours of constitutional law or legal ethics in your fourth year, you head for the hallowed Supreme Court of India, ready to right most wrongs. As an intern, no less. In the two months that follow, the long arm of the law beats you down with the big stick of reality. You are informed — usually by a court clerk or a senior lawyer’s private secretary — that the only way to succeed is by endearing yourself to your employer.
On the systemic failure of the Supreme Court to tackle sexual harassment under its watch, here.
It is 1994, and less than a year to Assembly elections in Bihar. The Indian economy is on the mend but the benefits of liberalisation are yet to reach semi-urban and rural areas. Standing in the way of government efforts to boost consumer spending is a little known international treaty called the Montreal Protocol. The Protocol requires India — which ratified it in 1992 — to control and phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons, which are considered Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS). As a developing country, India has been offered a 10-year window to abide by its commitments to the Protocol.
Reining in CFCs could possibly dent the consumer goods market in India: they are used as refrigerants in automobiles, electronic appliances, plastics and pharmaceuticals, among other applications. Of particular concern is the market for refrigerators, which has witnessed an unprecedented boom. Having acceded to the Protocol, the government has no option but to hard-sell it to the public. Maneka Gandhi — who as Environment Minister negotiated India’s entry into the Protocol — opts for a novel approach to the issue at an election rally in Bihar, in a constituency located near a tiger reserve. Ms. Gandhi — she would recall to the late political scientist Holly Sims — spins the story of “The Lady, or the Tiger” around to ask the crowd: “Do you want a refrigerator, or a tiger?”
On why India’s ozone diplomacy is aimed at keeping US ties warm, here.
A few months ago, the most optimistic observers of international politics were not willing to hedge their bets on the Doha Development Round at the World Trade Organisation. The Doha Round negotiations have been stalled for more than a decade now — the West would like developing countries to remove import barriers while India, Brazil and China want the United States and the European Union to reduce the massive subsidies they provide to rich farmers. Neither side has conceded ground on its claims. But at the Bali Ministerial Conference this December, the U.S. will use a trump card to have its way with India and other emerging markets: our food security legislation. On the pretext of “allowing” India’s food security law to exist alongside its commitments to the WTO, the U.S. has wrested an in-principle agreement from New Delhi on the issue of “trade facilitation.” In other words, India has agreed to greater market access for western companies in order to ensure the survival of the Food Security Act.
On how the United Progressive Alliance is trading food security for market access by the West, here
(From ‘The Edit Room’)
The Hindu’s leader writers meet every day at noon in our Chennai office. The purpose of our meeting is two-fold: to identify crucial topics that merit an editorial and allot them to specific writers. The second is a rather straightforward process. Our team comprises writers who specialise in various topics, be it politics, science, the environment, sports, business, law or foreign policy – we are almost always sure who the best person to editorialise an issue is.
In this post, I want to focus on the first and most important part of our agenda. Which issues should the newspaper write editorials on? During a meeting last month, a colleague suggested we write a leader on the Miss America saga. Indian American Nina Davuluri’s achievement had been met by a barrage of patently racist commentary on social media. Indian media outlets had played the controversy up, with some turning the news of a beauty pageant into a peg for righteous outrage. Surely, The Hindu had something to say about it?
On the editorial debate around the Miss America episode, here
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reluctance to raise the slightest murmur of protest against the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying excesses during his American trip leaves us with one question: will NSA surveillance continue unabated? India has displayed a stunning lack of political will to even broach the issue with Washington D.C. Perhaps, this was inevitable: a Prime Minister humiliated at home by his own party can hardly be expected to sour the one foreign policy achievement that defines his legacy. Dr. Singh was busy ensuring the India-U.S. nuclear deal is operationalised before he demits office to worry about concerns that actually affect the lives and businesses of Indians.
On the simple steps India can take to help rein in the NSA’s surveillance programmes, here.
Within hours of the time of writing, the United Nations Security Council will pass a resolution that not only paves the way for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons but also sets its crisis on track for a politically mediated settlement. For all intents and purposes, this will be the first time the Council would adopt substantive measures to tackle Syria, since conflict first broke out two years ago. The Council’s permanent members have signed off on the draft resolution, and its contents were discussed at a full-house meeting of all UNSC members on Thursday night. The UNSC draft resolution, which will be cleared without amendment, represents an unmitigated victory for Russian diplomacy: Moscow has extracted every pound of flesh from its bargain with the United States to destroy Syria’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and more.
On UNSCR 2118, which represents a major victory for Russia, here
As our readers would know by now, three years in a remand home is the maximum punishment that can be imposed under the JJ Act. Much of the anger, therefore, had been channelled towards the Act itself: while some sections of society sought its amendment to lower the age of juveniles from 18, others wanted to increase its quantum of punishment for heinous crimes like murder and rape.
We were faced with this question: how should The Hindu respond to popular demands to “correct” the Act? Should we tap into this narrative and lend support to the amendment proposals?
Read the full post here