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  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  ARTICLE  
     
  Tehelka on the spot  
  Fall of an icon  
   
  I WAS really puzzled when I received a message from a friend, "I blame Gandhi -- he it was who brought words like 'penance', 'atonement' etc into the lexicon. Let somebody investigate his experiments with girls young enough to be his daughters and grand-daughters". Busy as I was travelling and unused as I am to accessing "breaking news", I was clueless why my learned friend attacked poor Gandhi all of a sudden.

A few hours later when I read Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal's convoluted letter "recusing" himself from the editorship of the magazine for six months to atone for what he did to the daughter of a journalist friend I know and respect, I understood the context in which my friend had sent that message.

It's true that there were many women in Gandhi's life, some of them foreign, some Indian. His hand was on the shoulder of a nubile young girl when Nathuram Godse pumped bullets into him and silenced the man about whom Albert Einstein said, "Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth." She alone knew whether Gandhi uttered "Hey Ram" before collapsing that day.

It's also true that Gandhi slept "naked" with girls young enough to be his grand-daughters, as part of his experiment with Brahmacharya but he did it with the door of his bedroom open, not closed. 

As all men in authority attract women, Gandhiji also attracted several women, some with romantic ideas like Mirabehn. He wanted her to focus on his ideals, rather than on him. As Girja Kumar, who studied Gandhi’s Brahmacharya points out, "He was wrong because she had fallen at his feet not for his ideals but for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in flesh and bone".

There were other women who wanted to shine in Gandhiji's reflected glory. As editor, Gandhi wrote about his "experiments" with women but his subordinates in the weekly refused to publish it. Perhaps, it was the first case of an editor being censored by his own deputies! His experiments evoked controversies and scandals which he faced squarely and boldly. He never recused himself from work.

Once, Gandhiji wrote to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, "With one solitary exception, I have never looked up on a woman with lustful eyes". His moral sense of guilt bothered him and he tried to elaborate upon the colourful episode in his life: "Even the one solitary instance referred to by me was never with the intention of despoiling her". 

Gandhiji had some weird ideas and his idea of 'marital brahmacharya' was one such. One great thing about him was that whatever he did, he did it in the open.

One cannot but agree with Mirabehn when she concluded that Gandhiji did not love any woman because he loved himself more than anyone. The very mention of Mahatma Gandhi in the context of what Tejpal allegedly did to his subordinate is sacrilegious, for they have little in common like chalk and cheese.

I have never met Tejpal but have read the versions of my friends Binoo K. John and Parsa Venkateshwara Rao Jr, who worked with him at India Today. They suggest that he was no longer his former self —a journalist ready to battle with all vested interests, be it in politics or administration. I have in this column expressed my reservations on the defence scam that Tehelka exposed.

My objection was to the manner in which Tehelka conducted its probe into the goings-on in the defence ministry. Take the case of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, who was caught on camera accepting bundles of currency notes from the Tehelka team. I do not defend Laxman but I have reason to believe that he was more sinned against than sinning.

The BJP chief was like sage Vishwamitra, who fell for the charms of Menaka, when she disturbed him in his meditation on the orders of Indra, who feared that if he successfully completed his tapas, he would even be able to control heaven. The sage did not go after any girl but in one weak moment he lost control of himself. That did not make Vishwamitra a debauch, though he had to pay a heavy price for his indiscretion by having to bring up a daughter himself, with Menaka returning to her heavenly abode.

There were many aspects of Tehelka's conduct that called for critical questioning like, for instance, the supply of prostitutes to some defence officials to have its way. Gandhiji advocated all his life that means should justify the ends but by adopting such questionable means, Tehelka shocked many a reader.

At the same time, my sympathies were for Tejpal and his team when the BJP government went after Tehelka by instituting case after case against its staff and financial supporters. The government succeeded in virtually finishing the news portal. 

After Tehelka was relaunched as a weekly, I had occasion to read it only once when I wanted to read a particular story done by an investigative journalist I knew. Some of Tejpal's colleagues, including a photo journalist, have told me that he gave enough freedom to his colleagues. Somehow I developed a liking for him so much so that when his maiden novel The Alchemy of Desire was published, I bought it the day it was made available at Chandigarh.

I could easily relate to the places like City Beautiful, Sukhna Lake and Shimla that figured in the novel. The novel was about a couple who loved each other so much that I wondered whether they did anything other than making love in the kitchen, on the couch and on the floor. What I liked about his writing is that even when he wrote about sex, it did not titillate the reader.

I remember one of my friends Ashish Alexander finding fault with the treatment accorded to a Christian character in the novel, whose single achievement in life was the large number of liquor bottles that had accumulated in his backyard. It amounted to stereotyping of Christians as ones who are easy on the bottle as in films like Bobby.

It may not be proper to draw conclusions about an author's character from the portrayal of his characters. P. Keshav Dev was a novelist I admired till I met him and found out that he was a liquor addict, who was happy doing nothing but drinking.

I have also met writers like Thakazhy who led a virtuous life, though people have several anecdotes that reveal his miserliness. It may be a little curious that when the Press should have been reporting the details of the snooping incident in which Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is supposed to have used all his intelligence-gathering machinery to know the movements of a lady, it has been discussing Tejpal's misadventures.

When it has become the done thing for newspapers like the Hindustan Times to bring some superannuated politicians, who should be live specimens in the Smithsonian Institution, for their annual debating events, it was not surprising that Tehelka thought of organising a think festival in distant Goa.

I do not know how such programmes promote good journalism. Instead of investing money on journalists who can bring good stories, newspapers nowadays spend money on organising such programmes which bring them greater political mileage, if not advertisement revenue. 

I am hardly in a position to comment on this business model but I do not find any logic in bringing together Hollywood and Bollywood actors, who are past their prime, at such festivals at considerable cost. By the way, Tehelka had defaulted on making provident fund contributions to their employees' PF accounts.

The victim journalist was flown to Goa to chaperon one of the guests. I could have understood Tejpal deploying her to report the event for the magazine. There are event management companies whose job is to organise conferences and events.

Every year when the Kolkata Group, led by Dr Amartya Sen, meets in the eastern metropolis, the services of such a company are hired and it organises the meetings with great professionalism. It takes care of the guests from their arrival at the Kolkata airport to their departure from the airport.

I do not want to go into what exactly happened in the lift on two consecutive days because the versions of the girl and Tejpal are out there in the public domain. Since the subject is a matter of police investigation, it may not be proper to judge the issue.

Attempt to rape is a criminal charge that needs to be investigated and proved in a court of law, if the accused is to be punished. While the Goa police is expected to do the job, some comments on Tejpal’s conduct would be appropriate. Incidentally, in criminal cases the police can suo motu take action and they need not wait for a complaint.

The editor has been changing his stance with each passing day. After his "unconditional apology" to the girl, Tejpal has been playing with words to suggest that whatever he did to the girl was consensual. Unfortunately, character assassination has become part of his defence strategy.

The poor girl had to quit Tehelka. Now she will face great difficulty in getting a job because of the bad publicity she got. I can imagine the kind of trauma she had undergone before penning everything in detail to Tejpal's deputy in the hope that she would set up an inquiry under the Visakha judgement of the Supreme Court.

When I was with The Tribune, one of my lady colleagues gave us a written complaint about sexual harassment by a male colleague. Knowing the two people, I had doubts about the genuineness of the complaint. That did not prevent the management from referring the complaint to a committee headed by a lady, who did not belong to the newspaper group. In the end, the committee dismissed the complaint as of no consequence.

Unfortunately, in the case under discussion, the attempt all through was to save the editor's skin. His deputy, who has now quit Tehelka, has explained that his "unconditional apology" was made at the instance of a lawyer friend who changed sides. The point is, did Tejpal not have a mind of his own to take a stance on an issue that affected his life and career, except at the prompting of a paid lawyer?
That does not speak highly of a person, who was at one time touted as one of the most influential persons in India. What he allegedly did to the girl comes within the purview of the rape law. Nobody will buy his argument that he did it in a drunken stupor. On two days?

The fact is that he tried to misuse his authority because he found the girl vulnerable. Recusal is a facility judges enjoy. When persons known personally to them figure in a case or their own interests are involved in it, they can excuse themselves from hearing a case. How can a proprietor-editor recuse himself for six months as Tejpal did? In doing so, he tried to question the intelligence of ordinary people who, he thought, would hail him as setting a righteous precedent.

What he does not realise is that his conduct amounted to a criminal act for which the law stipulates certain punishment. Of course, it is for the court to decide whether he tried to molest the girl in the lift on two consecutive days. If the answer is yes, he will have to face the severest punishment the law provides for.

In no case does he merit mercy for he was not merciful in his dealing with the girl in question. He being rich and powerful has the resources to obtain the best legal services to defend himself in the court. His lawyers are expected to unleash all the crude strategies the defence employs in such cases.

That, alas, will be sad for Indian journalism, which has lost an icon in the fall of Tarun Tejpal. The more he tries to defend himself by pointing the accusing finger at the hapless girl, the more he will lose the respect of fellow journalists and readers.

The writer can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com
Courtesy: Indian Currents
 
  By  A.J. Philip  
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