Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw
Home > Women’s Rights > India: Media Plays Lynch Mob and Faux Crusaders for Women’s Rights

India: Media Plays Lynch Mob and Faux Crusaders for Women’s Rights

9 December 2013

print version of this article print version

BBC News, 5 December 2013

Q&A: Arundhati Roy on India editor ’sex case’

Arundhati Roy Author and activist Arundhati Roy says media hysteria is not going to address women’s problems

Tarun Tejpal, the former editor of India’s top news magazine Tehelka, has been arrested after allegations from a colleague that he sexually assaulted her. Mr Tejpal has not been formally charged yet and he denies the accusations against him. Booker Prize-winning author and activist Arundhati Roy, a long-time acquaintance of Mr Tejpal, speaks to the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder about the case.

Q: What was your reaction when you first heard about the accusations against Tarun Tejpal, as someone who knows him and is familiar with Tehelka?

A: Heartbreak. I think all of us are already braced for what we know is going to be mass hysteria in the media in which everybody is just not given time or place to think.

The fact is that what has been alleged against him is a pretty serious crime and you do have to admire the fact that a young colleague did have the courage to stand up and say what happened to her which isn’t normally the case.

Yet, because of what happened in the [Delhi] gang rape last December, there is a lynch mob that is howling in a maximalist way. I think what we miss is a real addressing of the problem. On the one hand we are talking about sexual harassment, molestation and rape being a phenomenon which very many women go through. Is this media hysteria going to address the problem?

Q: Are you surprised at the reaction given the reality of what women face?

A: On the one hand you have a country most of whose population lives in a feudal, patriarchal past where Dalit [formerly untouchable] women are raped by upper-caste men which has been seen as their right.

Then you have the phenomenon that women are changing much faster than men, entering the workplace in great numbers, are empowered, are changing the way they dress, the way they stand, the way they look and what they expect, and that is creating a new kind of violence against women.
Tarun Tejpal, the 50-year-old founder and editor-in-chief of India’s leading investigative magazine Tehelka, speaks with the media upon his arrival at the airport on his way to Goa, in New Delhi 29 November 2013 Tarun Tejpal denies allegations that he sexually assaulted a female colleague

Then you have the violence against women in militarised areas like Manipur, Kashmir, Chhattisgarh. And the same people who are outraged at what happened with Tarun Tejpal and his young colleague are not outraged by what is happening systematically in those places.

Women have fought for the expansion of the legal definition of rape and I think that is a work in progress.

It is an un-nuanced law - some parts are good and some are draconian.

By expanding the law and cranking up the punishment what you are getting is a lynch mob after a few high-profile cases - but the phenomenon is not being addressed.

Q: Are you suggesting that this is an issue that the law cannot completely address?

A: I’m partly suggesting that. There has to be an institutionalised way of addressing this which cannot just be crude. Everyone cannot be sentenced to death or life in prison or hounded in the public eye. We need to calibrate our responses, calm down and think about it a bit.

Q: How do you think you can do this while also delivering justice to a victim?

A: If we could put these systems in place then victims can also make their own decisions to a great extent of whether they want to go to a court of law or address it in a different way. The building blocks are in place but need to be more civilised.

Arundhati Roy’s first and Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things was published in India by India Ink, a publishing house set up by Tarun Tejpal and Sanjeev Saith. It was later acquired by Roli Books.

o o o

The Asian Age, December 07, 2013

Media’s curious crusade against Tejpal

by Antara Dev Sen

Rape is about power, about violence — not about sexual potency. A mandatory potency test for all rape accused is a regressive step that must be challenged. Especially if the media is so darned interested in women’s rights.

Are we a nation of voyeurs? Do we not have any shame? How long can you scrutinise other people’s lives anyway? Even if they do have a sex angle. Frankly, the media’s sanctimonious obsession with Tarun Tejpal’s sex case is driving me nuts. Thank god the state elections arrived, assuring us that there was life beyond Tejpal.

I am now in Goa for the literary festival, in a lift-free environment. Goa has moved on. But our media has not. Why does the otherwise sane Indian media believe that we are forever thirsting for minute details of Tejpal’s life in and after the hotel lift in Goa? Here I am speaking only of old fashioned, mainstream media — national newspapers and television channels. Not being on any social media forum, I cannot comment on happenings on Facebook or Twitter.

Mainstream media, I think, is behaving exactly as Tejpal did. No, they are not all in lifts hungrily pressing buttons. But they are guilty of the same duplicity that they hate so vehemently in Tejpal. “You! Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere! (You! Hypocrite reader, my double, my brother!)” said T.S. Eliot, quoting Charles Baudelaire. Our media seems to say to Tejpal: “You! Hypocrite crusader! My double! My brother!”

Tarun Tejpal — talented journalist, smart, fun-loving intellectual and flourishing businessman — built an image of himself, and of his magazine Tehelka, as a crusader for truth and ethics. He was, like a lot of successful people, also involved in several deeply unethical acts. But because he took the high moral ground, his fall was particularly dramatic.

The media pounced on Tejpal — he had positioned himself as a god and you could now show his clay feet. So they launched curious crusades against Tejpal apparently to stand up for women’s rights. Some newspapers even had graphic details of the encounter highlighted on the front page. Some TV channels had dramatic reconstructions of the incident. Clearly they believed that voyeurism and sleaze led to women’s empowerment.

This is precisely why women do not report rape. For the fear of being violated again, in public. For the fear of prying minds invading their personal space, the fear of becoming a mere sex object, the fear of figuring in lurid, lascivious thoughts of strangers and friends. When a woman musters the courage to talk of a deeply personal hurt and complain about a powerful person’s sexual misconduct, she needs to be treated with tender care and respect. Instead, the media, self-proclaimed crusaders for women, insist on violating her over and over again.

How does shamelessly detailing a brave woman’s moment of sexual trauma help? Perhaps the media in the rush of 24/7 news and instant tweets has finally lost its mind. Why else would it diligently tell us about Tejpal’s eating habits on the plane or in the lockup, or give us details about his cell, his toilet, his clothes, his cell mates? What is the point of zombie-like reporting of every irrelevant and sometimes bizarre detail? Like how the cops are super careful with Tejpal, as if he is a dreaded terrorist, how they make the family member who brings him food from home taste the food, how they then observe her for 10 minutes to see that she has not keeled over before they allow that food to be given to Tejpal. Because the cops “don’t want to take any chances”. What chances? Do they honestly believe that Tejpal’s devoted family that has formed a protective shield around him will quietly poison him while in police custody?

Among such uncritical, compulsive reporting of details and distressing absurdities in the Tejpal sex case, particularly harmful is the mindless reporting of his potency test. Smug reporters told us that Tejpal had passed the test. They did not question why the taxpayer’s money and government time was spent to conduct this test. How on earth is a potency test relevant for someone accused of digital rape? Were they checking whether Tejpal can lift a finger? The test is pertinent only when one accused of penile penetration pleads not guilty on account of impotency. A sexual potency test may have been mandatory for a rape accused when our law defined rape solely in terms of penile penetration. For decades sensible people had demanded a wider definition so that victims raped in other ways could get justice. Now that the law has finally changed, it needs to be honoured. Rape is about power, about violence — not about sexual potency. A mandatory potency test for all rape accused is a regressive step that must be challenged. Especially if the media is so darned interested in women’s rights.
Not surprisingly, while overdosing on the Tejpal sex case, our media never talks of pervasive gender discrimination and deep-set violence against women. It does not link to other sexual offences across the country by men against disempowered women and girls. It does not talk of building a consensus against endemic gender violence.

If at all it moves beyond Tejpal in and after lift, it remains trapped in the area of sexual harassment in the workplace and Vishakha guidelines. There are hundreds of rapes, far more horrific and violent than this, taking place around the country. Cases the media confines to three inches in the inside pages if at all, and would never do a follow up on. Like a dalit teenager being raped and killed in some village in Uttar Pradesh, or Bihar. Or a 12-year-old being burnt alive for resisting rape in Uttar Pradesh. Or a 19-year-old being raped and killed in Mumbai by her father and his friend for marrying against his will.

The day Tejpal’s scandal broke in Delhi, there was another case of sexual assault by a trusted, older man on someone who could be his daughter. Also in Delhi. A little girl of eight was raped by a neighbour. The media has barely mentioned this dreadful crime, and has not even named the accused. There are many such horrifying crimes against children and women that happen every day. The media hardly notices.

Yet it falls upon Tejpal like a lynch mob. Seeking vengeance more than justice. But vengeance neither protects nor empowers women. For that you must address the need for far-reaching, systemic and attitudinal changes.
And obsessively kicking a man when he is down is appalling. Especially when done by a smug media mob masquerading as crusaders for justice.

The writer is editor of The Little Magazine.

She can be contacted at: sen at


The above articles from the BBC and from The Asian Age are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.