Former Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal told the High Court of Bombay in Goa, during a hearing of his plea seeking the quashing of rape charges framed by a lower court against him, that his statements of apology days after the incident in 2013 were “sought on demand” and drafted by Shoma Chaudhury, his colleague at the time.
“It was like a charter of demands… and he was just given a draft and asked to sign,” claimed senior counsel Aman Lekhi, who appeared for Tejpal at the hearing Tuesday. The apology was treated as a confession statement by Goa police investigating charges of rape levelled by another former colleague against Tejpal during an event at the Grand Hyatt in Panaji in November 2013.
The court reserved its judgment on Tejpal’s plea on a day when heated exchanges were witnessed between the prosecution and defence, prompting Justice Nutan Sardessai to reprimand both sides.
The defence argued for the “precious reputation of a family man wrongly facing charges of rape”, while the public prosecutor sought to “respect the statement of a rape victim given under oath”.
Lekhi questioned the “quality of two apologies” sent by Tejpal to the victim within a gap of minutes, and said that they were “inconsistent with each other”. “She (Shoma) makes a charter of demands, which is contrary to what CCTV showed… How can there be a apology on demand?” he argued.
Referring to the second apology, a formal email to the victim, Lekhi claimed that Chaudhury had asked Tejpal to write an email “including points as suggested by her”.
Tejpal’s side also produced CCTV footage of the victim entering and exiting the hotel’s elevator on the night of November 7, 2013, after the alleged incident took place inside the lift, and the following day to claim that she did not show “any sign of distress or outrage”.
This is the first time that a court hearing the case was shown such clips; in earlier hearings at the lower court, image grabs of the footage were produced.
Responding to the defence’s arguments, Special Public Prosecutor Saresh Lotlikar defended the victim’s version, taking the position of law.
Lotlikar said that the defence’s attempt to “discredit” the victim’s statement by alleging contradictions through specific CCTV footage was “going too far” and that the accused seeking go “scot free” at this stage was “premature”.
Citing judgments from the Supreme Court, Lotlikar said the victim’s statement should be taken at face value as the law had changed following the 2012 Delhi gangrape.
Arguing against any “meticulous examination” before a trial, Lotlikar said there were enough grounds for prima facie proof of sexual assault and the “victim’s statement that there was no consent has to be accepted”.
At one point, Justice Sardessai interrupted Lotlikar to ask: “On the first date, let us assume what all she says transpired in the lift, irrespective of it being subject matter of any footage. Then why does she run behind him? If at all any lady is subject to such type of humiliating conduct, how do you explain her conduct where she runs as seen in the CCTV footage… She is seen running behind him. It should have been the other way, she should have run away in the opposite direction.”
Lotlikar responded that people react to situations differently. “She will have her own explanation on why she did what she did during her cross examination. When will she be able to explain this position? If the accused is discharged?” he argued.
Referring to the investigation, Lotlikar said that the hotel’s lift takes 21 seconds to reach the top floor of the two-storey building but “this particular transit took 2 minutes and 9 seconds”.
Tejpal was charged by a district court in Mapusa under IPC sections 354-A (sexual harassment), 376 (rape), 376(2)(k) (rape of a woman by a person being in position of control or dominance over the woman). Police later added charges under IPC sections 341 (wrongful restraint) and 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (2) (f) (person in position of trust or authority over women, committing rape of such women), 376 C (sexual intercourse by person in authority) and section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty).