This article titled ‘Template Checklist For A Rape Victim’ by Sarah Azad is a short comment on Tejpal Verdict, 2021.
Tick across the following if you were raped –
- It was your fault and you are blaming yourself for the same.
- You never smiled after the incident.
- You curled up in a room after the incident.
- You cried your eyes out for days and are devastated.
- You avoided all social gatherings after the incident.
(Note – according to the evaluation criteria, it will be concluded that you were raped only if you tick at least 4 out of 5 criteria)
Imagine having to abide by such a checklist to confirm or rather prove whether you were raped or not? Well, that is what the Tejpal Verdict of 2021 sought to do.
‘The woman got raped’ and not ‘the man raped the woman’ should be enough to justify what goes in and around our country.
“It is extremely revealing that the prosecutrix’s account neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part that a victim of sexual assault might plausibly show,” – Tejpal Verdict
Background of the Case
The Tejpal case began in November 2013, when a firm run by Tejpal and some others hosted a THINK festival in Goa, which featured panel debates with prominent personalities. The 2013 version drew special attention because it featured Hollywood great Robert De Niro as a guest.
The complainant was a Tehelka journalist who had been tasked with looking after De Niro and his daughter. Tarun Tejpal, the magazine’s editor-in-chief at the time, allegedly assaulted the complainant twice during the festival, according to the complaint. The assaults happened both times in lifts. On November 7, the initial assault occurred, followed by the second the next day.
The complainant did not immediately complain to the management of the magazine but on November 18 sent a detailed account of the incidents to the managing director Shoma Chaudhary.
Following this, Tejpal sent two emails expressing his regret at the incident: one to the complainant personally and the other to the staff of Tehelka.
After the matter became public, the Goa Police took suo motu cognisance of it and registered an FIR. The police then took statements from the complainant and also got a magistrate to record her statement under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The North Goa district and sessions court in Mapusa town held closed hearings in which 71 prosecution witnesses and five defence witnesses were cross-examined. In February of 2014, the Goa crime branch filed a 2,846-page charge sheet against Tejpal.
Tejpal disputed the claims after the case was filed against him, claiming they were part of a “political vengeance” by the BJP government in Goa. He had already petitioned the Bombay High Court for a hold on the accusations being filed upon him, however, the motion got denied. It took almost eight years for the trial to conclude. The complainant was cross-examined only in 2019, six years after the incident.
Cut short to 2021, the court had earlier adjourned pronouncement of the verdict in the case on three occasions, citing various reasons. It was finally adjourned to May 21 after being postponed from April 27 to May 12 and to May 19. He was charged under Section 376(2)K, 376(2)F, 354(A), 354(B), 354, 342 and 341 of IPC which range from rape by a person in control to wrongful restraints.
Tarun Tejpal Editor in Chief, Tehelka Magazine sided away acquitted from the 2013 rape charges of a female colleague pressed against him on May 21, 2021, even after the presence of a written acceptance of him through an email of his deeds.
Who is an ideal Rape Victim? – Comment on Issues with Verdict
Facts being laid out, what is more, astonishing than ever is the judgement that talked about the ‘prototype’ of a rape victim. Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi said the evidence submitted by the prosecution and defence creates doubt on the truthfulness of the victim and noted that the benefit of the doubt has to be given to the accused in the absence of corroborative evidence in the 527-page judgment.
“Rape myths undermine the credibility of those women who are seen to deviate too far from stereotyped notions of chastity, resistance to rape, having visible physical injuries, behaving a certain way, reporting the offence immediately, etc,” observed the Court.
Despite the fact that the court specifically said that the complainant’s sexual history was unrelated to the current case, a perusal of the judgement reveals that allegations about her past were continually employed in the name of establishing the veracity of her claims.
“The printouts of photographs clearly prove that the prosecutrix was absolutely in a good mood, happy, normal and smiling.. she did not look distressed or traumatised in any manner whatsoever though this was immediately a few minutes after she claims to have been sexually assaulted by the accused putting her in a state of panic and trauma.” – Sessions Court
Giving the judgement a plain read, it becomes obvious that the court is attempting to find the “typical rape victim”. The court rejected the complainant’s allegations of trauma and, by extension, her claims of assault, based on images taken during the event that appeared to show her in a happy mood. Because the complainant is a well-read journalist who has covered sexual crimes, it draws astonishing assumptions about her capacity to meet legal criteria.
The court’s judgement also lessened one of the key evidence’s value by putting forward that Tejpal sent the complainant an apologetic email under pressure was one of the critical parts of the decision that swung the scales. Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhary created the statement and compelled Tejpal to send it because she was unhappy and wanted to safeguard the magazine’s reputation, according to the court.
The judge appears to be unaware that people react to shock and anguish in different ways, and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to responding to a sexual assault. The judge does not provide a clear explanation of how the complainant should have reacted.
Judge Kshama Joshi’s comments ultimately gave voice to the social fabric of how a rape survivor should act and the questions that arise when she doesn’t. How can someone who has been raped have a life irrespective of that nightmare? How can someone smile after that horrific day? How can someone not curl up under the blankets after the rape? Why didn’t the woman lock herself up in the room and cried her eyes out? How does she have a life? Why didn’t the woman blame herself for the rape that man had committed? Why didn’t she? How can she? Well, these should suffice as the summary of the verdict.
The Way Forward
To a relief, the Goa Government took into consideration the injustice and has appealed before the Bombay High Court challenging the Sessions Court’s Verdict mentioning how the victim/complainant was more scrutinized than the accused himself. A legal notice has been sent to Tarun Tejpal by the High Court of Bombay, after the acceptance of the appeal and the matter is to be heard on 24 June.