Seema Chishti & Ashutosh Bhardwaj
The managing editor of Tehelka,Shoma Chaudhury,is also regarded as a feminist who has used her profession and position to champion the rights of women,highlight the cultural misogyny in India and demand swift and harsh punishment for brutal crimes against women.
But her decisions and comments this week after a colleague complained to her that Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal had sexually assaulted her,strongly militate against this record.
Instead of following the law,Chaudhury sought to resolve the complaint internally saying that is what the complainant wanted.
She also said the complainant was satisfied with the resolution only to be contradicted by her the next day.
She has countered reporters questioning her by asking them if they were the ones aggrieved. The Goa Police has said she did not respond to their requests for information and had to be reminded repeatedly.
The following is a sample of Chaudhurys most recent work that is illustrative of what she argued for,at least on paper:
*In a piece written for Al Jazeera on September 30,2013 entitled ‘Women in India: Goddesses or Sluts?,Chaudhury wrote about the changes in the rape law after the December 16 Delhi gangrape case. These protests had several effects: they resulted in a more enlightened legislation on rape; they caused a shift in vocabulary; and,for the first time,they made it politically and socially embarrassing to blame the victim, she wrote.
Talking of how women are often made to take the blame,she interviewed some men and wrote about how they view women. Together,these men present a sort of DNA of the dominant male attitude to women in India: they have no concept of male accountability; no concept of the hijab of eye and action. Women,for them,are never victims,they are the agent provocateurs. The burden of social order lies only with them.
* Chaudhury participated in The Daily Beast and Newsweeks ‘Women of the World summit in New York on April 4-5 this year and occupied centrestage in a discussion on the ‘Outcry in India focusing on the processes in India around sexual violence after the December 16 gangrape.
Here,she spoke about the cultural misogyny in India and how there is an absolute endemic idea that women ask for it. She spoke of how the police refuse to file FIRs. One of the biggest things that got passed by the Indian legislature and is awaiting Presidential assent is…for the first time one has acknowledged that the police dont file FIRs. They make it difficult. In any case,it is the most under-reported crime,and then you dont take complaints. Now,if the police dont file FIRs,they themselves are liable for imprisonment. Thats the huge,huge change.
She also went on to correct the anchor on how the debate was needlessly talking about how only men are to blame for misogynistic attitudes: I really want to reinforce the idea that this is not a gender,sort of,distinctive attitude,you know. Why do men turn out the way they do? Its because of their mothers,their sisters and their mothers-in-law. And we are so collusive to the violence that happens against women.
* In the Tehelka issue of January 9,2013,in a piece headlined ‘Why did it need an incident so unspeakably brutal to trigger our outrage? she wrote: The harsh truth is,rape is not deviant in India: it is rampant. The attitude that enables it sits embedded in our brain. Rape is almost culturally sanctioned in India,made possible by crude,unthinking conversations in every strata of society. Conversations that look at crime against women through the prism of womens responsibility: were they adequately dressed,were they accompanied by a male protector,were they of sterling ‘character,were they cautious enough.
Rape is already the most under-reported crime in India. But beneath that courses a whole other universe of violence that is not even acknowledged. Its not just psychopathic men in a rogue white bus who can be rapists: its fathers,husbands,brothers,uncles,friends. Almost one in every two women would have a story – perhaps told,perhaps untold – of being groped,molested or raped in the confines of their own homes.
Writing against the perceived immunity felt by rapists,she said: Harsher,swifter punitive measures are definitely needed to puncture the idea of immunity thats built up around rape. Fear of consequence is a powerful tool.
* Earlier this month,Chaudhury lashed out at CBI director Ranjit Sinha for his controversial remarks about rape. Ranjit Sinha should lose his job for his remark on enjoying rape. Is appalling that he can even think of defending such a remark, she tweeted.
* Soon after she was named an accused in the Essar-Maoist payoff case in Chhattisgarh in September 2011,tribal school teacher Soni Sori fled the state and approached Chaudhury in Delhi. Chaudhury interviewed her,conducted a sting by recording her phone conversation with a Chhattisgarh constable and scrutinized the allegations against her.
Chaudhurys cover story in Tehelka (October 15,2011) headlined ‘The Inconvenient Truth Of Soni Sori,described the trials of an educated tribal woman believed to be falsely implicated by the police. Living in a city,it is hard to believe this is an Indian story. Living in a city,it is hard to believe this story is even a true one. Its always hard to believe in the lives of those outside the orbit of ones experience. Or even the periphery of ones imagination, she wrote.
Chaudhury detailed how Sori,escaping from the Chhattisgarh police,reached Tehelkas office and requested her for help. Soni is a lone woman in a hostile world. Her life is in smithereens. And she is about as defenceless as anyone can get. But,even as the cruel ironies pile up… she sits dignified…resolute and indignant. She refuses to disappear conveniently…she wants her story told.
* Way back in March 1999,in a piece in Outlook headlined ‘Mapping Women,Chaudhury had laudatory things to say about The Atlas of Men and Women in India,published by Kali for Women. She quoted Pearl S Buck on the basic discovery about any people is the relationship between its men and women.
She wrote,in India,we know this relationship to be largely discriminatory,often exploitative. Talking of the importance of a map she wondered,what if something were to make visible,at a glance,not only what is happening between men and women in India,but where its happening and why. Would one be forced to confront the issues more squarely then?