Sexual assault victim’s email against Tarun Tejpal, Editor in Chief, Tehelka
Tarun Tejpal, the founder of Tehelka.com, known for incisive investigative journalism is in the line of fire for a sexual assault on one of her female employees. Tejpal has confessed to the crime and apologised for what he calls a “drunken banter” and a “bad lapse of judgement.” He has recused himself from the office and has offered to step aside for six months as his so-called Atonement.
The female, a friend of Tejpal’s daughter has shown exemplary courage in challenging the might of a powerful man by seeking justice.
We are sharing with our readers the victim’s complete e-mail to Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury.
We have omitted some details from the original letter keeping in view the sensitivity of the issue.
It is extremely painful for me to write this email to you – I have struggled with finding an easier way to say it, but there isn’t one. The editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week. From the very first moment, I wanted to call you, or find you and tell you what he had done to me – but given how absorbed you were at Think; preparing for and conducting sessions, and the fact that it was impossible for the two of us to get even a minute alone together, I could not. To add to this, I had to process the fact that it was Tarun who molested me — my father’s ex colleague and friend, Tiya’s dad, and someone I had so deeply respected and admired for so many years.
Both times, I returned to my room in a completely distraught condition, trembling and crying. I went straight to Shougat and Ishan’s room, where I called G Vishnu and told them what had been done to me. (All three of them are copied on this email. You can contact them for any clarifications you see necessary). The second time he molested me, I even told Tiya what happened. When he heard I’d told Tiya (she confronted him), he lashed out at me, and I became truly terrified of what he would do. I avoided him in all situations except in rooms full of people, until I checked out of Think on Sunday.
As of Saturday evening, he sent me text messages insinuating that I misconstrued “a drunken banter”. That is not what happened. Banter does not involve forcing yourself on someone, trying to disrobe them, and penetrate them with your fingers despite them pleading for you to stop. As you read through the details of what happened in the attachment to this mail, I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you — and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal and an acknowledgement of the same to be circulated through the organization. It cannot be considered acceptable for him to treat a female employee in this way.
On the night of 7th November 2013, the opening night of Tehelka’s Think festival, I had discharged my duties for the day as the chaperone for Mr Robert De Niro. As it was Mr De Niro and his daughter’s first night in Goa and at the festival, my editor in chief Mr Tarun Tejpal accompanied Mr De Niro, Drena De Niro (his daughter) and I to Mr De Niro’s suite to wish him goodnight. (As his chaperone, my work was to be available all day to Mr De Niro and Drena, take them sightseeing, make sure they were well looked after in Goa and at the Hyatt – until they retired to their suite at night. )
As we left the suite, Mr Tejpal and I were in conversation — I have known him since I was a child, he had worked closely with my father who was also a journalist, and after my father’s accident Mr Tejpal had always been a paternal figure to me. He was responsible for offering me my first job, and was always just a phone call away whenever I needed his advice on a story or life. His daughter, Tiya Tejpal and I are very close friends as well.
As we made our way out of the elevator of Block 7 at the Grand Hyatt, Mr Tejpal held my arm and pulled me back into the lift. He said – “Let’s go wake up Bob” (Mr De Niro) and I asked him why he wanted to do that. I then realized that Mr Tejpal was simply pressing buttons on the lift’s panel to make the elevator stay in circuit, preventing it from stopping anywhere, and for the doors to open.
At this point, he began to kiss me — from the first moment of his doing so, I asked him to stop, citing several reasons, including my friendship to Tiya, my closeness to his family, the fact that he had known me since I was a child, the fact that I worked for Tehelka and for Shoma Chaudhury – who is my managing editor and mentor. It was like talking to a deaf person. Mr Tejpal xxxxxx xx xxxxx xx, xxxx xxxx xx xxx xxxxx and xxxxxx xx xxxxxxxxx xxxx. He attempted to xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xx xx as I continued to struggle and hysterically asked him to stop. At that moment he began to xxx xxx xxxxxxxxx xx xxxx xxx xxxxxx, I became scared and pushed him hard and asked him to stop the lift. He would not listen. The lift stopped on the ground floor as Mr Tejpal’s hands were on me and could not press the button for yet another floor to keep it in circuit. As soon as the doors opened, I began walking out of the elevator rapidly – he was still following me, asking me what the matter was.
I said “It’s all wrong. I work for you and Shoma.” He said first “It’s alright to be in love with more than one person,” and then he said, “Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job.” I was walking still faster, blinking back tears.
By this time, we had made our way from Block 7 to the main lawns of the Grand Hyatt, where I walked into the grassy dinner area full of people and Mr Tejpal walked off towards the performance area. Right as soon as he was out of sight, I took a taxi back to my hotel – the International Centre for Goa, where the Tehelka staff was staying, and went to the room where the Literary Editor Shougat Dasgupta and the Photo Editor Ishan Tankha were staying. I also called another friend and colleague – investigative reporter G Vishnu to the room and told them what had occurred. While the four of us were talking in the balcony, Mr Tejpal sent me a text message from his personal phone number at 1.17 am, which said “The fingertips”. This was the extent he had managed to penetrate me before I pushed him and ran out of the lift. I told the people with me on the balcony about this. Some of us considered resigning as soon as Think was over. I called my boyfriend xxxx, from Ishan Tankha’s iPhone and told him what had happened.
I was confused, hurt and really, really scared. At that point I did not want to lose my job. And so the next morning, I went about my work determined not to give Mr Tejpal or Tehelka a reason to fire me, as I was sure they would do once this story got out. At a few points of the day, I discussed the events of the previous night with Shougat Dasgupta, G Vishnu and Ishan Tankha, who were concerned about me after the state they had seen me in the previous night. In the afternoon, I accompanied Mr De Niro, his daughter, Sir VS Naipaul, Lady Naipaul and Mr Tejpal’s wife to the Governor’s bungalow for lunch.
Given the company we were in, I did not make any mention of what had occurred to Ms Geetan Batra, Mr Tejpal’s wife. Once I had escorted Mr De Niro back to his room post lunch, he expressed a desire to attend one of the sessions at the Main Hall. I brought him down to the Green Room, where Mr Tejpal found us, and asked me to bring Mr De Niro back down for Mr Amitabh Bachchan’s session as he wanted the two to meet. I took Mr De Niro and his daughter shopping to Panjim, and brought them back in time for Mr Bachchan’s session as instructed. Once the session was done, Mr Tejpal, Mr De Niro, Mr Bachchan and a few other members of the film industry, lawyers, politicians etc were supposed to meet at the Block 7 Grand Club for drinks.
I escorted Mr De Niro and Drena to this bar, told them I would return to my hotel, change, and be right back. While I was getting dressed at my hotel, Mr Tejpal called me from ThakurJi’s phone (Thakurji is the caretaker and manager of Tehelka’s Bombay office premises) and asked me where I was. I informed him I was just about to leave for the Grand Hyatt. In the taxi I noticed he had already sent me two text messages on my phone which said “Where r u?” at 8:29 and then “??” at 8:42. from his personal number.
I replied with the following messages: “On my way to the lounge” 8.42 pm, “Had to sort out a lost package for Drena and get a bit presentable. See you in 10” at 8.44 pm and “Call tee she needs you” at 8.47 pm as Tiya had messaged me asking to help her find Tarun. At this point I was trying to be as normal and professional as possible and somehow get through my duties.
Five minutes later, as I was walking into the Grand Club at Block 7, Mr Tejpal was coming out of the lounge. He pointed at me asking me to stop. I was already worried that I was late and that Mr De Niro had asked for me. Mr Tejpal came to me and said “Come up with me, we have to get something from Bob’s room”. I was frightened that this would lead to a repeat of the previous night and so I said, “What does he need? I’ll go get it.” I was scared of getting into the lift with him again, and more terrified that he was going to try and take me into a room this time. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift (which is barely a few steps away from the lobby of block 7 where he had asked me to wait). When the doors closed, he started to try and kiss me again. I said “Tarun, please, no, just stop,” he pulled away, smiled, patted my cheek and said “Why? Ok. I’ll stop.” I said again “This just isn’t right. Tiya is my best friend. I had lunch with Geetan today. “
He smiled again and just for a moment I thought I had appealed to his better sense. I turned away from him, desperately waiting for the door to open (there are only three floors in Block 7 (G, 1 and 2), we were between floors). Within seconds of my turning around, he started to xxxx xx xx xxxxx and said “You’re unbelievable”. The door opened on the second floor, on Mr De Niro’s floor — and he said again – “The universe is telling us something” to which I said “I’m taking the stairs” and started to walk out. He pulled me back in, sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria — by this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic, he did not touch me until the lift reached the ground floor. Right as the doors were about to open, he patted my behind once more.
I walked out of the lift, went to the Grand Club and immediately informed Ishan Tankha that Mr Tejpal had tried to molest me again. Ishan said “Again? What the fuck is wrong with him?” He was completely disgusted and said once more that we should just resign immediately. As I was to accompany Mr De Niro to the dining area, I somehow composed myself. Mr De Niro was mobbed by fans – and I had to take him away from the main garden to the Capiz Bar. I was sitting at the Capiz Bar with Mr De Niro and his daughter when TiyaTejpal came there to join us.
This was the first time the two of us had really met since the incident of the previous night. Since I had moved to Mumbai about a year and a half ago, Tiya had grown to become one of my closest friends. She lives across the road from my house in Mumbai and barely a day had passed when the two of us did not meet or talk to each other constantly. She was sitting beside me, and Mr De Niro was absorbed in conversation with his daughter. I could not keep something of this magnitude from her. I told her she would hate me for what I was telling her – but that Mr Tejpal had tried to molest me on these two separate occasions. I said “He tried to shove his tongue down my throat and then took my panties off”, when Tiya replied saying “I saw him do this to a woman when I was thirteen, so it doesn’t surprise me anymore,” but she was clearly disgusted.
Tiya left the Capiz Bar right after this. In half an hour, Mr De Niro and Drena asked to be dropped back to their room. They were extremely upset at the day’s events because Mr De Niro had all but been assaulted by fans at the dinner table, and they asked me to convey this to Mr Tejpal. When I came down from Block 7, I found Mr Tejpal sitting at a table with several people and called him away from the table, but still in full view of everyone, so I could relay Mr De Niro’s message privately.
I said “Bob is really upset about tonight, he got mobbed really badly..” to which Mr Tejpal replied “I don’t give a fuck about Bob. How could you tell Tiya what happened?” I said “Tarun, I told you Tiya and I are close and what you did wasn’t okay, I had to tell her,” to which he said “She’s my daughter. Do you even understand what the word means? Just get away from me, I’m so fucking pissed off with you right now.”
I left from the spot crying, found Tiya outside her room in the main performance area and asked her what she had said to her father. She said “There was no other way. As soon as you told me I wished you hadn’t, but you can’t tell me what to say to him – I told him to keep it in his pants.” I said “I’m probably going to lose my job over this”, she agreed, but also said “It’ll be a bad phase but it’ll pass.” On this night as well, I left the Grand Hyatt and went to my hotel, found Shougat Dasgupta, Ishan Tankha and G Vishnu and told them what had happened. I also called my boyfriend and told him that Mr Tejpal was aware of the fact that I wasn’t staying quiet, and that he was extremely angry that I had told his daughter. The next morning, I called my mother and told her everything that had happened. Everyone was most worried for my safety and advised me to leave Think as soon as possible — however since my day’s work involved me staying away from the Grand Hyatt and staying at a completely different part of Goa for the day with Mr De Niro and his daughter, I felt temporarily safe. At this time MrTejpal sent me the following texts from his personal number.
1. “I hope you told Tiya that it was just drunken banter, and nothing else”
To which I replied – “I told her we were both drunk” – because it was true that everyone had had a few drinks on the first night. But not the second, when he assaulted me minutes after I had reached the Grand Hyatt. However, this was the first time Mr Tejpal had said anything to me after lashing out at me the previous night, and I was still very afraid of him.
He then sent me a second message:
2. “And just banter, nothing else” – to which I did not reply, because there was no way what he had done to me could have been described as “banter”.
Sensing that I had clammed up at his attempt to sugar-coat what really happened, he sent me a third message:
3. “Why?? What’s happened??”
I did not reply to this message. Within minutes, he sent me a fourth message, one that convinced me he saw absolutely nothing wrong with what he had done, and was in fact now trying to shame me for talking to Tiya:
4. “I can’t believe u went and mentioned even the smallest thing to her. What an absence of any understanding of a parent child relationship.”
After this message, I made sure to stay away from Mr Tejpal except when we were in extremely public situations only – such as the Speakers Green Room at the Hyatt, or the lobby of the hotel. That evening as well, I steered completely clear of him. He made no mention of anything that had occurred the next day, and the only thought on my mind was to get Mr De Niro on his plane and leave Think. I had to speak to MrTejpal several times on Sunday the 9th of November to coordinate Mr De Niro’s travel plans, but in these calls he made no mention of anything that had occurred. Once I dropped Mr De Niro to the Goa Airport at 4.30 pm, I had no further contact with Mr Tejpal.
However, on 16.11.2013, Mr Tejpal messaged me a number of times
1.“Have you spoken to Tee? Is she Ok?”
To which I replied: “Why would she be ok about the fact that you sexually assaulted her best friend, that is me?”
2. “What’s with saying this awful stuff??”
To which I replied: Do not send me any messages. You are lying and you know that.
3. “Oh is that so? I cherished you like one of my best kids always, all these years; and because of one drunken banter you so easily say these awful things.
To which I replied: It was twice Tarun, not once and it was no banter. You did the most horrible things to me and I certainly was not drunk. I asked you to stop repeatedly.
4. “Oh so that’s what you told Tee. No wonder she’s so madly upset. Its ok. Am not going to contest anything with her. Will let time and my love heal what it can.”
5. “Don’t think I’ve been more saddened in the longest time”
I have no doubt that Mr Tejpal was trying to establish his innocence in a devious manner. If he needed to get in touch with his daughter, he could have done so anytime he desired, through his wife or daughter or nephew or anyone from his family without messaging me about her, or falsely claiming that all that happened was ‘a drunken banter’. This was no banter, it was most clearly sexual assault. As a reporter for Tehelka who writes on violence against women, I suddenly find myself in the horrific situation of discovering what it is like to be on the receiving end of this violence from a powerful man I once deeply admired and respected. I truly hope that the idea of Tehelka is still intact – and that you will conduct an inquiry into this matter at the earliest.
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