Women under siege

The Tarun Tejpal case,which has just exploded,is sad and shocking.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published: November 24, 2013 1:13:03 am

What is it about Indian women that somehow they are victimised not just by strangers but also by the people they know and trust? The Nirbhaya case was shocking both in the details of the physical degradation she was subjected to as well as the callousness of her attackers. But we know,and such information has come continually since then,that women get harassed/stalked/raped/killed all the time and that the perpetrators of these acts are often people they know.

In the febrile climate of an election,the claims and counterclaims of harassment are bound to concentrate not on the victim but on the battle between the rival political parties. But if the two events which have come to light are true,they tell a shocking story about the state of women in modern India.

The Tarun Tejpal case,which has just exploded,is sad and shocking. It is sad because he is a talented writer and journalist. I have known him for years and think of him as a friend. Tehelka erupted on the scene when they exposed the Defence Ministry scandal during the BJP/NDA rule. It paralysed the government and did not allow them to pursue any bold reforms. It lost its elan.

Tehelka was accused of being a Congress mouthpiece,but the story stuck. Tehelka has gone on to do many more exposes. Indeed the case Tarun Tejpal is alleged to be involved with would have been a Tehelka expose had it been anyone else.

The deed is shocking because the relationship between him and the victim must have been fatherly when it began. Fathers are,of course,sometimes predators themselves. And so it has been proved in this case. There were not just one but two attempts to molest the woman. Thus it was not random,nor was it in the ‘heat of the moment’. It was premeditated. Yet the conduct later was even worse. There was an institutional attempt to hush up and bully the victim into not complaining. There was a feeble attempt at saying mea culpa with a six-month leave from the job. The response is even more to be deplored as it shows how many other women must suffer from such pressures and how many predators get away with their acts.

Tehelka is a part of the modern Indian media and,hence,is at the heart of democracy. But so is the Gujarat government and BJP. If we are to give credence to the ‘Sahib tapes’,though they are as yet unauthenticated,here is another instance of stalking and surveillance of a young woman. According to the BJP,this was done at the request of her father. As the story goes,the father approached the Gujarat Chief Minister for help in keeping tabs on his daughter. One can only guess why. He is said to be an RSS man and hence may have direct personal contact with the CM. As far as the father was concerned,she was doing things he did not approve of. Maybe meeting men he did not think she should see.

This is a situation of illegality rather than physical assault,but is no less serious. The issue is the legal basis under which such surveillance was carried out. The Executive in India frequently bends the rules and exercises its power in shady ways. We know this from the frequent somersaults with the CBI lodging and then withdrawing cases against political leaders. The great task is to monitor every such act and make a fuss about it. That alone will stop the corruption — the moral corruption of misuse of power. Usually the Executive gets away with such acts,but,if exposed,it should be pursued. The misuse of power is much worse and is a much greater threat to the freedom of citizens than mere money scams.

If India is to progress,it has to reverse the logic of respect. It is not the leaders,the elders,the fathers who should be paid respect. It is the young men and women just beginning their careers and preparing to take charge of the future India who deserve our respect,but more especially respect from the elders and fathers.

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