(First published in Scroll on 2 April 2014 under the headline ‘Six ways of looking at the Tarun Tejpal tapes’)
Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon depicts the same incident from the perspective of four people. All the versions are different – and all four seem believable. In the case of the Tarun Tejpal CCTV footage, we have at least six versions of what the tapes in the hotel lobby are said to depict.
Since November 30, Tejpal, the former editor Tehelka magazine, has been in jail after a junior colleague accused him of raping her in a lift. The incident was alleged to have taken place during a festival called Think, organised by Tehelka in the Grand Hyatt hotel in Bambolim, Goa. There were cameras only in the landing outside the lift, not inside it. The woman journalist alleged that she was asked by Tejpal, her employer, to accompany him in the lift on November 7 and November 8, and on both occasions he assaulted her. On the first occasion, it is alleged, he committed non-penile rape.
Tejpal was given the footage by the Goa police on the instructions of the court on February 19, but since then, it seems to have been viewed by many people. No matter whose version you choose to believe, the fact is that the CCTV footage cannot establish whether it was consensual sex or rape – simply because the alleged criminal acts took place inside the lift where there were no cameras.
1. Manu Joseph Manu Joseph wrote a cover story for Outlook magazine, which reached newsstands on March 28, titled “What the Elevator Saw”. This is misleading considering that the elevator did not have any cameras to see anything inside it. Joseph tries to do a fair analysis of the CCTV footage, taking both sides into account. But nowhere in his story in Outlook does he admit to having watched the tapes himself. Instead at one point he attributes his insights “…to several people with direct knowledge of the material…” Perhaps he is aware of potential legal consequences of admitting to having seen the footage.
If he was merely told what was in the tapes by several people, it would have served the reader well to know the identities of these people and their interest in the matter. Joseph did not answer an email query about this.
Joseph found several consistencies with the accusations levelled at Tejpal. “There is not a moment in the CCTV footage that shows the Young Woman exhibiting anything resembling physical affection for Tejpal,” he writes. The CCTV footage (or second-hand accounts of it) lead him to conclude that the woman journalist looks “clearly unhappy” as she walks out and there is an “unhappy tension” between the two.
As against these major consistencies that support the aggrieved woman journalist’s accusations, he found four minor inconsistencies between the footage and her first email to the Tehelka management complaining about the alleged attack. 1) She said they got off the lift on the ground floor when it was second floor. 2) She said she walked rapidly out of the lift though she walked at a “normal pace”. 3) She said Tejpal was pressing “buttons” to keep the lift in circuit but actually he had to press only one button, the “close” button. 4) She said Tejpal held her by wrist on the second occasion but he did not, as seen in the video.
None of these minor inconsistencies have any bearing upon whether or not the sexual acts inside the lift were consensual. Joseph admits that it is impossible even for him to remember the minute details of events and surroundings as captured by a CCTV camera.
Apart from these, he wonders if the frames of the woman tying up her hair are proof that she looks calm, but he fails to note whether her hair was tied up before she went into the lift and if it could have fallen loose because of an assault in the lift. As lawyers who deal with rape cases note, many people seem to want victims of sexual assault to follow a standard template of behaviour to announce their attacks woefully and dramatically. This, they say, is related to the notion that rape is a loss of honour rather than a violation of bodily integrity.
2. Outlook magazine Manu Joseph says he has obtained his information about the details of the CCTV footage by speaking to “several people with knowledge of the material”, so Outlook magazine’s presentation is at another step removed, based on Joseph’s article.
The article was published as a cover story with the headline: “The Tarun Tejpal Tapes.” The second sentence of the text about the story on the cover reads: “And the question marks that hang over what really happened inside the lift on those two nights.” Inside the magazine, the introductory note to the story reads, “We’ve seen the CCTV footage. And it shows inconsistencies.” On the web edition of the article, however, Outlook has changed that introduction and no longer claims to have seen the tapes. However, as noted, though the writer finds that the CCTV footage is mainly consistent with the accusations, Outlook’s strap line has chosen to emphasise the minor inconsistencies.
In addition, the article carries an illustration showing the “Young Woman”, as the piece refers to her, holding Tarun Tejpal’s hand and leading him into the lift. Yet Joseph’s article says the opposite: it says that it was Tejpal who was holding her hand and leading her into the lift. The magazine corrected the error on the web version after it was pointed out to them. Even the writer of the article, Manu Joseph, pointed out the inaccuracy on his Facebook page.
Outlook editor Krishna Prasad did not answer specific questions but said, “The Outlook cover story speaks for itself. It is not intended to interfere in any way in a matter currently before the honourable court. It is a balanced and nuanced journalistic exercise into a sensitive story and represents all points of view, including that of the prosecution.”
3. Seema Mustafa Senior journalist Seema Mustafa has published her reading of the CCTV footage on the website she edits, The Citizen. Unlike Joseph, Mustafa is not interested in nuance, balance or clarification. In her article Mustafa says outright, “What happened around the lift does not bear any similarity to what the alleged victim claims had happened.”
The main thrust of Mustafa’s article is to say the woman doesn’t look as though she’s been raped. Mustafa writes, “…the images do not show visible signs of agitation on her part.” This, say feminists, is the classic misogynist response most rape victims face: you don’t look like you’ve been raped, so you’re lying.
Such was the backlash against Mustafa that she seems to be disowning the story. removing her byline from it a few days after publishing it.
4. Anurag Kashyap, maker of fiction films, is perhaps following this story closely in the hope that it yields material for a script. He posted the Outlook article on his Facebook page with the pithy comment, “And I have seen the CCTV footage too and none of what the girl says about Tarun Tejpal is true.” This is at variance from the story that Kashyap was commenting on. This implies that Kashyap does not believe a single part of the woman’s statement, even details about where or when the incident occurred, for instance. More disturbing, it raises questions about how Kashyap, who has no relationship to the case, was able to access a confidential piece of evidence.
5. Someone who was shown the footage told Scroll.in he refused to write about it. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said, “One of Tejpal’s daughters came to me and showed me the footage. I decided not to write about it or say anything about it to a third person because I thought it wasn’t my business to sit on judgement. It was clearly part of a lobbying effort and I said let the courts decide.”
Tejpal’s lawyers claim they are not breaking the law and not revealing the woman’s identity. But if the woman’s identity was not revealed, how are the journalists who have written about the tape able to describe the expressions on her face?
6. The Goa Police The sixth reading, or actually the first one, is that of the Goa Police. The Goa Police’s charge-sheet does not use the CCTV footage as supporting evidence for the crime. It only uses it as corroborative evidence to establish the time of the incident. Considering there is no footage inside the lift, this makes sense. Yet the readings of the CCTV footage that are being published fail to say this.
Among the pieces of evidence that will be considered is the statement of the woman herself, which in rape jurisprudence in India has a very high value as evidence. If a judge thinks a rape survivor’s testimony is of a “sterling quality”, the court can hand out the conviction on the basis of the testimony alone.
In this case, the prosecution has a lot more evidence, such as testimonies of the three colleagues she confided in immediately after the incident. There are also emails from Tarun Tejpal to the aggrieved woman journalist in which he admits having forced himself upon the woman despite her “clear reluctance”. Though Tejpal has himself admitted as much about what he did inside the lift, it’s strange that so many people are watching CCTV footage showing them outside the lift. Given Tejpal’s admission of guilt on email, it doesn’t really matter whether the aggrieved woman employee appeared to be agitated or not.
One of the reasons articles such as these are being published is ostensibly because the public have the right to know the alleged attacker’s side of the story. According to this narrative, Tejpal has been proclaimed guilty through a media trial, without being heard. To be fair, Tejpal’s friends and associates have actually been heard consistently since news of the attack broke. His emails, as well as those of Tehelka No 2 Shoma Choudhary, have made their way into public. In addition, Tejpal has been defended on television by such figures as ad man Alyque Padamsee, actor Dilip Tahil, journalist Rahul Singh and many more. The complaint about one-sided media coverage does not really seem to hold water.