News East West
NEW DELHI: Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal, who stepped down for six months on Wednesday to “do penance’’ for alleged sexual assault on a junior female colleague during the `Think fest’ event by the magazine in Goa earlier this month, faces arrest in the case. If found guilty, he could be locked up for up to 10 years.
After the police in Goa, where the incident took place, booked him, its special investigation team (SIT) flew into Delhi on Saturday to record statements of Tejpal and his correspondence in the case. The team will also meet and record statements of the victim and Tehelka managing editor Shoma Choudhury.
Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar has said, “I have given complete authority to the police to investigate the case. I have told them don’t worry whether the person is low profile or high profile. Stature does not count. What counts is the crime. You go by what is correct in law.”
It must be remembered that the Goa chief minister belongs to the BJP whose former national president Bhangaru Laxman was brought down by Tehelka through a sting operation while he was accepting bribe in 2001.
The woman journalist, who is in her early 20s and a best friend of Tarun Tejpal’s daughter, reportedly told her three colleagues and wrote (read the letter at the bottom) to Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury in detail about the alleged molestation by Tarun Tejpal during the Goa event from Nov 8 to 10. The `Think fest’ was attended by Hollywood actor Robert de Niro and Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul and others.
Sources said that in her letter sent earlier this week to Shoma Chaudhury the victim alleged that “the editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal sexually assaulted” her “at Think fest on two occasions.’’
The victim said in her letter that she took time to report the matter as “it was Tarun who molested me.’’ She said Tarun Tejpal was someone she “so deeply respected and admired for so many years”.
According to a report in Delhi Durbar, the first incident when Tarun Tejpal molested her happened on the night of November 7 when she and Tarun Tejpal accompanied Robert de Niro and his daughter Drena de Niro to their hotel to say them goodnight. She said she had taken Robert de Niro and his daughter around Goa during the day.
The victim said she was allegedly molested by Tarun Tejpal in the elevator of the hotel as both of them returned after saying goodnight to Robert de Niro and his daughter. She said she tried to stop Tarun by telling him she was of his daughter’s age, but he allegedly `penetrated’ her with his fingertips.
When the lift came to a halt, and as she walked away, Tarun told her that “well, this (succumbing his overtures) is the easiest way for you to keep your job.’’
The victim said she took the taxi and reached her hotel where later at midnight she got a text from Tarun Tejpal which read: `The fingertips’ – in reference to the incident in the elevator.
The next day, the victim said, she continued with her assigned tasks, which included accompanying Robert de Niro, his daughter, Sir VS Naipaul, Lady Naipaul and Tejpal’s wife to the Goa Governor’s bungalow for lunch. Later in the evening, the victim alleged, Tejpal again molested in the elevator by forcing her to accompany him to Robert de Niro’s room.
Shaken by the repeat incident, the victim narrated the whole thing to Tarun Tejpal’s daughter who was also at the event. After his angry daughter reportedly shouted at him, Tarun Tejpal texted the victim hoping that she had told his daughter that it was “just a drunken banter, and nothing else,’’ according to Delhi Durbar.
In a later text, Tarun told the victim, “I can’t believe u went and mentioned even the smallest thing to her (his daughter). What an absence of any understanding of a parent child relationship.”
According to Delhi Durbar, Tejpal texted the survivor again half dozen times on November 16 and inquired from her whether she had spoken to his daughter and if his daughter was okay.
“Why would she be ok about the fact that you sexually assaulted her best friend, that is me?” the victim told Tarun Tejpal.
“What’s with saying this awful stuff??” he texted back. To which, the victim replied: “Do not send me any messages. You are lying and you know that.”
Then Tarun Tejpal responded with this text, “Oh is that so? I cherished you like one of my best kids always, all these years; and because of one drunken banter you so easily say these awful things.”
The victim again replied, “It was twice Tarun, not once and it was no banter. You did the most horrible things to me and I certainly was not drunk. I asked you to stop repeatedly.”
In her letter to Shoma Chaudhary sent earlier this week, according to Delhi Durbar, the victim said that Tejpal’s text messages on Saturday evening insinuated that she misconstrued “a drunken banter. That is not what happened. Banter does not involve forcing yourself on someone, trying to disrobe them, and penetrate them with your fingers despite them pleading for you to stop.”
After stepping aside for six months, Tarun Tejpal told Indian Express, “The matter was taken up internally, and has been addressed and redressed.’’
Tejpal started the Tehelka online portal in 2000 after leaving Outlook magazine as managing editor. Tehelka began with a bang by exposing the then BJP president Bhangaru Laxman taking bribe in a sting operation. In 2004, the online portal became a weekly publication.
Tejpal is the author of well-acclaimed novels The Alchemy of Desire and The Story of My Assassins.
A close friend of Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, Tarun Tejpal was some time ago described as among the 20 who constitute India’s new elite by the Guardian newspaper.
Here is what the woman journalist wrote in her letter to Tehelka managing editor Shoma Choudhury:
On the night of 7th November 2013, the opening night of Tehelka’s Think festival (in Goa), I had discharged my duties for the day as the chaperone for Mr Robert De Niro. As it was Mr De Niro and his daughter’s first night in Goa and at the festival, my editor in chief Mr Tarun Tejpal accompanied Mr De Niro, Drena De Niro (his daughter) and I to Mr De Niro’s suite to wish him goodnight. (As his chaperone, my work was to be available all day to Mr De Niro and Drena, take them sightseeing, make sure they were well looked after in Goa and at the hotel — until they retired to their suite at night.)
As we left the suite, Mr Tejpal and I were in conversation — I have known him since I was a child, he had worked closely with my father who was also a journalist, and after my father’s accident Mr Tejpal had always been a paternal figure to me. He was responsible for offering me my first job, and was always just a phone call away whenever I needed his advice on a story or life. His daughter xxxx and I are very close friends as well. As we made our way out of the elevator of Block 7 at the (hotel), Mr Tejpal held my arm and pulled me back into the lift. He said — “Let’s go wake up Bob” (Mr De Niro) and I asked him why he wanted to do that. I then realized that Mr Tejpal was simply pressing buttons on the lift’s panel to make the elevator stay in circuit, preventing it from stopping anywhere, and for the doors to open.
(Actual account of molestation)
I said: “It’s all wrong. I work for you and Shoma.” He said first “It’s alright to be in love with more than one person,” and then he said, “Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job.” I was walking still faster, blinking back tears.
I was confused, hurt and really, really scared. At that point I did not want to lose my job. And so the next morning, I went about my work determined not to give Mr Tejpal or Tehelka a reason to fire me, as I was sure they would do once this story got out…. In the afternoon, I accompanied Mr De Niro, his daughter, Sir VS Naipaul, Lady Naipaul and Mr Tejpal’s wife to the Governor’s bungalow for lunch.
Once I had escorted Mr De Niro back to his room post lunch, he expressed a desire to attend one of the sessions at the Main Hall. I brought him down to the Green Room, where Mr Tejpal found us, and asked me to bring Mr De Niro back down for Mr Amitabh Bachchan’s session as he wanted the two to meet. I took Mr De Niro and his daughter shopping to Panjim, and brought them back in time for Mr Bachchan’s session as instructed.
Once the session was done, Mr Tejpal, Mr De Niro, Mr Bachchan and a few other members of the film industry, lawyers, politicians etc were supposed to meet at the Block 7 Grand Club for drinks.
I escorted Mr De Niro and Drena to this bar, told them I would return to my hotel, change, and be right back. While I was getting dressed at my hotel, Mr Tejpal called me… and asked me where I was. I informed him I was just about to leave for the hotel….
At this point I was trying to be as normal and professional as possible and somehow get through my duties.
Five minutes later, as I was walking into the Grand Club at Block 7, Mr Tejpal was coming out of the lounge. He pointed at me asking me to stop. I was already worried that I was late and that Mr De Niro had asked for me. Mr Tejpal came to me and said “Come up with me, we have to get something from Bob’s room”. I was frightened that this would lead to a repeat of the previous night and so I said, “What does he need? I’ll go get it.” I was scared of getting into the lift with him again, and more terrified that he was going to try and take me into a room this time. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift… When the doors closed, he started to try and kiss me again. I said “Tarun, please, no, just stop,” he pulled away, smiled, patted my cheek and said “Why? Ok. I’ll stop.” I said again “This just isn’t right. (Tejpal’s daughter) is my best friend. I had lunch with (Tejpal’s wife) today.”
He smiled again and just for a moment I thought I had appealed to his better sense. I turned away from him, desperately waiting for the door to open. Within seconds of my turning around…
(account of molestation attempt)
I said “I’m taking the stairs” and started to walk out. He pulled me back in, sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria — by this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic, he did not touch me until the lift reached the ground floor. Right as the doors were about to open, he patted….
As I was to accompany Mr De Niro to the dining area, I somehow composed myself. Mr De Niro was mobbed by fans – and I had to take him away from the main garden to the Capiz Bar.
I was sitting at the Capiz Bar with Mr De Niro and his daughter when (Tejpal’s daughter) came there to join us.
Since I had moved to Mumbai about a year and a half ago, she had grown to become one of my closest friends. She lives across the road from my house in Mumbai and barely a day had passed when the two of us did not meet or talk to each other constantly.
She was sitting beside me, and Mr De Niro was absorbed in conversation with his daughter. I could not keep something of this magnitude from her. I told her she would hate me for what I was telling her — but that Mr Tejpal had tried to molest me on these two separate occasions…. She was clearly disgusted.
In half an hour, Mr De Niro and Drena asked to be dropped back to their room. They were extremely upset at the day’s events because Mr De Niro had all but been assaulted by fans at the dinner table, and they asked me to convey this to Mr Tejpal. When I came down from Block 7, I found Mr Tejpal sitting at a table with several people and called him away from the table, but still in full view of everyone, so I could relay Mr De Niro’s message privately.
I said “Bob is really upset about tonight, he got mobbed really badly…” to which Mr Tejpal replied “I don’t give a **** about Bob. How could you tell (my daughter) what happened?”
I left from the spot crying, found (Tejpal’s daughter) outside her room in the main performance area and asked her what she had said to her father. She said: “There was no other way….”
The next morning, I called my mother and told her everything that had happened. Everyone was most worried for my safety and advised me to leave Think as soon as possible — however since my day’s work involved me staying away from the hotel and staying at a completely different part of Goa for the day with Mr De Niro and his daughter, I felt temporarily safe….