Tarun Tejpal, the editor of one of India’s best-known investigative magazines, is facing a police investigation over allegations that he sexually assaulted a female journalist at a beach resort in Goa.
Police formally opened an investigation into whether Tejpal is guilty of rape and outraging the modesty of a woman, Kishan Kumar, Goa’s director general of police, said by phone today. Tejpal could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of offenses including rape by a person in position of trust and authority.
The journalist at New Delhi-based Tehelka magazine was assigned to escort Robert de Niro at a festival hosted by Tejpal, The Telegraph based in Kolkata reported, citing the victim’s e-mailed account of the incident. The first of two separate assaults occurred in an elevator after they accompanied the actor back to his room, the report said.
“I was devastated by her account but another version of the events exists,” Shoma Chaudhury, the managing editor of the magazine who was named one of “150 Women Who Shake the World” by Newsweek Magazine in 2011, said today in an interview with CNN-IBN. She attacked the Indian media, saying it is “wonderful at jumping to conclusions.”
The allegation of the attack occurs amid a bout of national soul-searching caused by the gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi in December 2012 that triggered weeks of protests. Even after the enactment of new laws imposing stricter penalties for men who assault women and the setting up of fast-track courts, India is struggling to tame the male attitudes that leave ordinary women vulnerable to attack.
Tejpal said today in a statement to CNN-IBN that he would cooperate with police. “Unfortunately as sometimes happens in life, the complete truth and the need to do the honorable thing can come into conflict,” he said. “In this case the anguish was accentuated by the fact that very many intimate people, professional and personal, were involved.”
While Tejpal plans to step aside from his job for six months over the incident, social activists and journalist associations called for tougher action against one of the weekly’s founders. Chaudhury said the magazine has created a formal complaints committee to look into the allegations.
“There ought not to be any attempt to cover up or play down this extremely serious incident,” the Editors Guild of India said in a statement. Mamata Sharma, chairwoman of the National Commission of Women, said Tejpal “is not God to decide his own course of punishment.” The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has also demanded Tejpal’s arrest.
Tehelka, an English-language publication whose title means “ruckus” in Hindi, is best known for investigations exposing political corruption. In 2001, when it was operating as a website, Tehelka released videotapes showing senior defense officials and politicians accepting bribes. That led to the resignation of the then-defense minister.
Tejpal accepted the “misconduct” and said “a bad lapse of judgment and an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident to the concerned journalist,” the Press Trust of India cited him as saying in a letter to Chaudhury. “Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words.”
Tejpal did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.