The sexual assault scandal rocking India’s top investigative publication intensified on Monday with the official resignation of the journalist behind the accusations against Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal. The text of the unnamed accuser’s resignation letter offers a scathing indictment of the organization’s handling of the sexual assault allegations — while also painting a bleak picture of the challenges that remain in the way of the effort to combat sexual violence in India following well publicized rape cases.
Tehelka’s robust coverage of the aftermath of last year’s Delhi gang rape case along with their record of railing against sexual assault has made their handling of these allegations especially troubling, something Tejpal’s accuser took care to address in her letter to managing editor Shoma Choudhury:
Over the past years, we have collectively defended the rights of women, written about custodial rape, sexual molestation at the workplace, spoken out harshly against the culture of victim blame and the tactical emotional intimidation and character assassination of those who dare to speak out against sexual violence.
At a time when I find myself victim to such a crime, I am shattered to find the Editor in Chief of Tehelka, and you- in your capacity as Managing Editor- resorting to precisely these tactics of intimidation, character assassination and slander.
The institutional double standard on sexual assault on display in Tehelka’s response to these allegations has received a lot of attention in the Indian media — especially where the organization’s journalistic credibility is concerned. But the case also sheds light on the pervasiveness of a problem that has been incrementally addressed in the political sphere — namely, the effort to combat sex crimes. That even an organization known for its stance against sexual violence would have no mechanism set up to handle allegations of this variety speaks to the limited implementation of the laws that have been passed in the wake of the Delhi rape case. Though Tehelka’s managerial staff scrambled to establish an investigative committee following the accusations against Tejpal, doing so after the fact — and possibly as a means to avoid a police investigation — only undermined the purpose of this stipulation.
So while political parties are placing a greater emphasis on ensuring the safety of women in their campaigns ahead of state polls next month, the Tejpal case should make clear that passing laws will not be enough to combat the problem of sexual violence. As long as implementation remains a secondary consideration– if even that — the impact of such legislation will remain limited. Though if there is one thing that should provide a hint of solace for campaigners against sexual violence, it is the sharp rise in the reporting of these crimes: sexual harassment cases were reported 2,695 times between January and September of this year, as compared to the 490 total cases reported in the entirety of 2012. The uptick signals that survivors of sexual violence are increasingly emboldened to seek justice for these crimes — which should count as at least one step in the right direction on an otherwise depressing International Day to End Violence Against Women.