Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury, who has come under criticism for trying to “cover up” the alleged charges of sexual assault leveled by a junior colleague against the magazine’s founding editor Tarun Tejpal, resigned on Thursday.
Chaudhury had to face the heat for the apology tendered by Tejpal to the complainant and the in-house probe route suggested by her to redress her complaint of alleged sexual assault instead of seeking a proper police investigation.
Tejpal’s apology — where he confessed to his misconduct — is a crucial part of the evidence being collected by the Goa Police to build their case against him.
In her resignation letter mailed to Tehelka editorial staff, Chaudhury wrote, “as a result of what's transpired over the past few days my integrity has repeatedly been questioned by people from our fraternity and, in fact, by the public at large. I would like to take cognizance of this. I have worked hard for Tehelka for many years and what we have stood for is very dear to me and I hold it in high esteem. I do not want questions raised about my integrity to tarnish the image of Tehelka, which it has done in the past week. Therefore, I resign as Managing Editor with immediate effect.”
In her letter, the managing editor also denied charges of an alleged “cover up” and of not standing by her “feminist positions.”
“While I accept that I could have done many things differently and in a more measured way, I reject the allegations of a cover-up because in no way could the first actions that were taken be deemed suppression of any kind. As for my feminist positions, I believe I acted in consonance with them by giving my colleague’s account precedence over everything else,” she stated in her resignation letter.
Tejpal faces arrest
Tejpal’s arrest appeared imminent after the Goa Police sent him summons seeking his personal appearance by 3pm on Thursday and Delhi high court offered him no relief on his anticipatory bail application.
The woman journalist he allegedly sexually assaulted recorded her statement before judicial magistrate (first class) Sarika Phaldessai in Goa capital on wednesday, a day after the police recorded her statement at her residence in Mumbai.
She is also learnt to have corroborated the FIR the Goa Police filed after taking suo moto cognizance of the complaint she had mailed to Chaudhury, making Tejpal’s arrest imminent.
Under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013, Tejpal’s alleged assault made in the elevator of a starred hotel in Goa during the magazine’s THiNK festival falls in the definition of rape.
Chaudhury under fire
Chaudhury's resignation comes a day after the National Commission for Women asked her to explain in detail the measures she took to redress the complaint filed against Tejpal.
On Wednesday, the Tehelka managing editor had written to the young journalist accepting the latter’s resignation.
Denying the victim’s charge that she did not respond adequately to her complaint, Chaudhary wrote in her letter, “Questions have been asked about why I did not go to the police. In our conversation, you had mentioned that you had considered this option but did not want to go that route. I thought I should respect that and had no reason to disbelieve this, as you had already spoken to journalists about your sexual assault, and both they, and you, could have gone to the police in the ten days that transpired before you brought your complaints to me.”
Chaudhury in her letter said that she is “inexpressibly dismayed” by the complainant’s charges that she (Chaudhury) did not stand by her.
“From the moment I received your complaint, my actions, were driven by outrage on your behalf, urgent concern, and a desire to assuage your sense of injury… despite my immediate and assertive actions in support of you, I stand wrongly defaced,” the letter states.
Choudhury on Wednesday had also denied indulging in character assassination of the woman colleague.
"I strongly reject the allegations in the media that I am involved in any manner with any slander, intimidation or character assassination of the complainant journalist," Choudhury said in a brief statement.
"This is a malicious campaign that has no basis in truth," she said.
BJP-Congress war of words
The BJP-Congress slugfest over Tejpal affair continued on Wednesday, with senior BJP leader and leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj saying a Union cabinet minister is "shielding" the Tehelka editor.
Without naming anyone, but probably referring to law minister Kapil Sibal, Swaraj tweeted, "Union cabinet minister who is the founder and patron of Tehelka is shielding Tarun Tejpal."
Hours later, Sibal told reporters, “Because I have been attacking (Narendra) Modi and attacking the BJP, obviously for them this is the only way to spread lie and to vilify my name.”
“These political leaders who are tangentially talking about me should name me if they have the courage," he added, while promising to say more at a press conference on Thursday.
Referring to reports that he owned 80% of Tehelka’s shares, he said he had never owned a single share in the magazine.
His sharpest reaction was to messages circulating in the social media and which said Tejpal’s mother was his real sister.
“It is a lie. I have only one sister, Asha Nanda, and she lives in Maharani Bagh. I didn’t expect RSS and BJP to stoop to this level. They have the patent to spread lies, but I didn’t expect the same from the leader of Opposition,” he said.
Tehelka sting operations, which showed former BJP president Bangaru Laxman accepting bribes for facilitating a defence deal and accused in Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom confessing to murdering innocent people, had bought a bad name to the saffron party. Its leaders have been very vocal in condemning Tejpal.
Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, who has been actively briefing media about the developments in the case and claiming neutrality at the same time, asked Tehelka editor-in-chief Traun Tejpal if he was a "Congress stooge", and also why were Congress union ministers like Jayanthi Natarajan supporting him.
The Goa CM said his government was duty bound to give the girl justice after she came out openly and was cooperating with the police.
Tejpal has alleged that the Goa government was giving him a bad time because the ruling BJP had a "long standing grudge" against him for the investigative journalism he did when the party headed the central government.