A female journalist who accused the editor-in-chief of India’s leading investigative magazine, Tehelka, of sexual assault has released an inspiring statement to silence her misogynist critics– almost 2 weeks after her traumatic experience.
What the young woman said highlights two major challenges Indian society faces with respect to reducing sexual violence against women, misunderstanding the act of sexual violence itself and blaming the victim.
Tarun Tejpal, the man accused of molesting his junior colleague, who also happens to be his daughter’s close friend, is one of India's most powerful journalists. The incident has also brought to the forefront the fact that sexual violence is common in the highest echelons of society.
She spoke about her disappointment in how the media covered the issue and how her motives for coming forward two days after the alleged assault were questioned. Clarifying that her incident constitutes ‘rape’, she referenced India’s watershed anti-rape law passed in March.
“Now that we have a new law that broadens the definition of rape, we should stand by what we fought for. We have spoken, time and again, about how rape is not about lust or sex, but about power, privilege and entitlement. Thus this new law should be applicable to everybody – the wealthy, the powerful, and the well connected – and not just to faceless strangers.”
Renowned leader in India’s women’s movement and founder of Apne Aap World Wide, Ruchira Gupta, emphasized the journalist’s point about the relationship between rape and power.
She said that rape is a gender-related issue and ‘gender’ is about a power relationship between man and woman. Unlike ‘sex’ which specifically refers to one’s sexual organs.
“Sex is biological but gender is constructed,” she said in a recent interview with Carbonated.TV.
The victim of Tejpal's alleged attack goes on to address one of the most troubling in India's sexual attacks - shifting blame from the perpetrator to the victim.
In my life, and my writings, I have always urged women to speak out and break the collusive silence that surrounds sexual crime. This crisis has only confirmed the myriad difficulties faced by survivors. First, our utterances are questioned, then our motivations, and finally our strength is turned against u.”
More power to her.
Faced with brutal media attention and allegations that she had some sinister ulterior motive for reporting the incident, this brave young woman has spoken out for all victims of violence in the most inspiring and admirable manner.
For the past year, news of sexual violence in India has been a troubling subject. This incident is one of many reports making it to the surface after the highly publicized gang rape back in December that left the victim in indescribable shape. She eventually died and the country was sent into a state of shock.
The public outrage that followed was unprecedented and so was the government’s reaction. Under intense internal and international pressure, the justice system responded immediately with a ‘speedy’ trial that still awaits a verdict, as well as an improved anti-rape bill (March).
Read the full text of her statement below.
I am heartened by the broad support I have received over the past fortnight. However, I am deeply concerned and very disturbed by insinuations that my complaint is part of a pre-election political conspiracy.
I categorically refute such insinuations and put forward the following arguments:
The struggle for women to assert control over their lives and their bodies is most certainly a political one, but feminist politics and its concerns are wider than the narrow universe of our political parties. Thus, I call upon our political parties to resist the temptation to turn a very important discussion about gender, power and violence into a conversation about themselves.
Suggestions that I am acting on someone else’s behest are only the latest depressing indications that sections of our public discourse are unwilling to acknowledge that women are capable to making decisions about themselves for themselves.
In this past week, television commentators who should know better, have questioned my motivations and my actions during and after Mr. Tejpal molested me. Some have questioned the time it took for me to file my complaint, more inquisitive commentators have questioned the use of the word “sexual molestation” versus words like “rape.” Perhaps the hardest part of this unrelentingly painful experience has been my struggle with taxonomy. I don’t know if I am ready to see myself as a “rape victim”, for my colleagues, friends, supporters and critics to see me thus. It is not the victim that categorizes crimes: it is the law. And in this case, the law is clear: what Mr. Tejpal did to me falls within the legal definition of rape.
Now that we have a new law that broadens the definition of rape, we should stand by what we fought for. We have spoken, time and again, about how rape is not about lust or sex, but about power, privilege and entitlement. Thus this new law should be applicable to everybody – the wealthy, the powerful, and the well connected – and not just to faceless strangers.
As seen by some of the responses to this case, instances of familial and custodial rape present doughty challenges to even the most adamantine feminists. Unlike Mr. Tejpal, I am not a person of immense means. I have been raised singlehandedly by my mother’s single income. My father’s health has been very fragile for many years now.
Unlike Mr. Tejpal, who is fighting to protect his wealth, his influence and his privilege, I am fighting to preserve nothing except for my integrity and my right to assert that my body is my own and not the plaything of my employer. By filing my complaint, I have lost not just a job that I loved, but much-needed financial security and the independence of my salary. I have also opened myself to personal and slanderous attack. This will not be an easy battle.
In my life, and my writings, I have always urged women to speak out and break the collusive silence that surrounds sexual crime. This crisis has only confirmed the myriad difficulties faced by survivors. First, our utterances are questioned, then our motivations, and finally our strength is turned against us: a politician will issue a statement claiming that speaking out against sexual violence will hurt our professional prospects; an application filed in the Delhi High Court will question why the victim remained “normal”.
Had I chosen silence in this instance, I would not have been able to face either myself or the feminist movement that is forged and renewed afresh by generations of strong women.
Finally, an array of men of privilege have expressed sorrow that Tehelka, the institution, has suffered in this crisis. I remind them that this crisis was caused by the abusive violence of the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, and not by an employee who chose to speak out. Thank you everyone for your support.