Tarun Tejpal, the iconic founder and Editor in Chief of Tehelka, India’s award-winning magazine for political reportage, has stepped down following accusations of sexual assault from a journalist who works for the magazine. For those of us who admire and follow brave independent journalism in the region, Tehelka, and Tejpal himself, were symbols of hope; of people standing by and for what they believe is right. I was published in Tehelka earlier this year – something I considered, and consider, an enormous honour.
The Indian media – and perhaps those of you outside India who have been followers of Tehelka – are up in arms about the case. I see my Facebook feed full of angry comments and no doubt platforms like Twitter are alight tonight, too. It is heartening to see that so many people, young men in particular, journalists, thinkers and believers, are expressing their anger and disappointment – and are sitting up and paying attention to the words ‘sexual assault’. I like to think fewer people are willing to accept this culture, this way of life as the norm anymore. We are not willing to let these things slide.
Needless to say, since the case involves such a high-profile man, and a media-man at that, the Indian media are barely keeping up with themselves in reporting the details of the case. The Indian media, especially the Indian television media, is good at useless outrage; it often fails to offer any deeper analysis of the situation and usually only manages to express a kind of senseless fury (extreme adjectives, graphic descriptions) that often exacerbates the situation and leaves intelligent viewers even angrier than before.
We all know, only too well, the story of the insensitive media who will do anything to ‘get the story’. But the internet and large online forums for discourse like Facebook and Twitter, have also enabled many voices across the world to share information, give an opinion and create and participate in debate and discussion about the things that seem to matter. This also means that there’s a much higher chance, a bigger opportunity, for people to simply get carried away, and there’s a lot more people who now have a space in which to do it. Even trickier is that most of these people are not journalists who may not understand even the most basic of journalistic ethics, and why these structures exist.
We live in a world where the more sensational they the make the news, the better it will sell. But I like to think we also live in a world where we are much more aware and better educated about the real pitfalls of unnecessarily sensationalizing real events. We often blame ‘the media’ for this, but it’s time to accept that many of us are equally responsible for similar trends of creating sensationalism out of truly awful/traumatic things that happen to real people in the world around us.
With this case, the victim’s email, detailing the multiple incidents where she says Tejpal assaulted her, have gone viral. Most people have shared all or some portions (the parts where she says exactly what he did, of course) of it in public forums. Furthermore, Tejpal’s email to his Managing Editor have gone public, as has her email to the entire staff, notifying them of Tejpal’s resignation. Many people are continuing to share the graphic details of the assault on Facebook. While this information is useful to an investigation and may help in understanding the gravity of the incident, I wonder if any of these people spared even a moment of thought of what it would be like for that girl, reading the shares and comments of complete strangers talking about something so deeply disturbing that happened to her – so recently.
However, that being said, it is important to make a distinction between defensive behaviour (that may be veiled as an attempt to remain sensitive to the issue and the people in question) and real efforts to make sure that reportage is accurate, balanced and above all, useful in informing and educating the reader/viewer. Someone saying, ‘Sexual assault in this office is an INTERNAL affair, let us sort it out’ is wrong. Sexual assault is not an ‘internal affair’ – much like domestic violence is not a ‘family problem’. It is a crime and needs to be investigated and dealt with as such. That is clearly defensive behaviour.
It is truly a terrible and shocking thing to accept that any man – leave alone someone you believed fought for all the same things you do – would willingly and repeatedly violate anyone – leave alone a woman who trusted him, a fellow colleague, a friend, even. But, before you post furious tirades, give in to your inner-anger, hurl insults, draw wild conclusions and make unfounded speculations about the personal lives/relationships of ANY of the people involved; I ask you to remember, all of those people are real, too. They have internet access and could be sitting home tonight, reading this discourse. It is important to express our disappointment, anger, hurt, even, and to say we do not accept this.But please remember, even Tejpal has a family; wife, children.They are probably reading what you write. The young woman who is the victim in this case is out there too, and may read what you write. She has a family, also.
Having been on the inside of things that go public in a way that is outside your control, I have felt what it is to have your life – your family, an event that is so incredibly and deeply personal to you – plastered all over the internet. Just practice some care, some caution, some decency. Make intelligent arguments. Share accurate information. Do something useful; don’t simply give into commonplace media-and-public outrage. It would cost you almost nothing to ensure that the information you are sharing is coming from a credible source and that the opinion you are expressing is one that you can stand by.
If you want to help protect the privacy of the Tehelka journalist who made the accusations against Tejpal, you can sign this petition. Promoting, sharing and supporting endeavours like this one will make your contribution to this discourse truly useful.