Letter To Ms Tehelka-Assault-Victim

Why the accusations of rape against TarunTejpal are not a leg up for women’s freedom and rights.

WrittenBy:Nirupama Sekhri
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Dear Ms Tehelka-Assault-Victim,

Now that the melee around your case has cooled, and our rabidly reactionary media has chosen other issues to target, this may be the right time to open up the case again to some questions – this time directed at you.

To begin with, I would like to establish quite clearly that I do not see you as a victim, unless it is of bubblegum feminism which I will speak in detail of later.

Neither is my heart bleeding for Tarun Tejpal. After all, he in all his wisdom chose to hire you – and chose to travel with you in that lift.

Yet, in all fairness, in the one-way fury that had been unleashed on him in response to this incident he has become the victim, not you. But my concern for Tejpal’s victimisation is not personal, it has much wider ramifications. You may agree that there are plenty of really nice guys around in our cities who do not enjoy taking advantage of women.Who, like Tejpal, do not hail from pedigreed families, and like him cannot, through traditional political clout or monetary brawn, buy immunity from our wag the dog media or the prison cell.

Also, like Tejpal, some of them may have ruffled enough feathers to induce gleeful vendetta against them in cases of allegations such as yours.

You have put them at risk. You, and cases like Khurshid Anwar, show how blithely irresponsible people like yourself can rip reputations apart,can have lives spat and stamped upon, much before the veracity of your allegations have been established.

So, in their defence and in defence of women like me who are alarmed at the way cases like yours are coming to celebrate “feminism”, it is only fair to ask you some questions too.

It is mystifying to me that you chose to travel the second time in the lift with a man who had already misbehaved with you in it the first time. In the case that you simply couldn’t help it, like dash away saying you’d forgotten something in your room…had an urgent call to make or something …were you at least not better prepared the second time around?

In the case that the first time you were totally paralysed with shock and an overwhelming sense of betrayal by your “boss”, your “father figure” misbehaving with you, surely the second time round you had had enough time to see him for the lecherous lout he was, and should have gathered enough courage to hit out. Why did you choose only to plead and beg and not do something more drastic? Why did he not come out of the lift kicked, punched, disheveled, flustered? You were in a swanky hotel in Goa, why didn’t you go and report it immediately to the security, the hotel manager, the police? Why did it take a savvy girl like you so long to make an official record of the violation?

This is not merely a personal question. It has across-the-board implications. We live in a country where hundreds of thousands of girls and women do not receive the opportunity of the kind of education that empowers them to lead their lives on their own terms and articulate eloquently their thoughts and feelings. In addition, they live in fear, guilt and confusion about their bodies, which religion, society and law tells them is the sacred property of their husbands to protect or maul – as their kismet directs.

When they are confronted with sexual violence they feel ashamed, culpable somehow for having brought it upon themselves, through present or past deeds – or for just being a woman. In such a scenario, it is imperative that the precious few young people like yourself who are invested with that power to understand unwanted sexual advances as an unequivocal wrong, speak up immediately.Why didn’t you?

This is the question that needs to be explored extensively and thoroughly. Why smart, young, educated girls do not immediately exercise legal redress when they feel violated? The space for this discussion has instead been completely hijacked by those defending the rights of “bubblegum” feminists. The kind that some articulate young women have come to represent in India – the self-indulgent, frivolous,  feverishly BBM-ing kind –who do what they want, how they want, when they want, and then righteously demand to be excused for any of its repercussions, because hey, after all they are just women.

These cute, young things see it as “cool” to stray into unnecessary (professionally irrelevant) interactions/conversations with their male bosses or colleagues. They blissfully ignore the fact that women in heavily patriarchal societies like in India join the workforce with the complete awareness that there is a profound gender imbalance, that being a woman is considered a weakness – to be exploited and/or taken advantage of. So we have to make sure that if we want to be seen and treated as equals and professionals, we cannot then use our physical charms, wiles and bodies as tools for negotiation. There is, you surely understand, a gaping discrepancy in a woman wanting special favours done for her at her workplace, or working below par in lieu of her flirting and partying with the men – rather than making sure it’s her work that is justifying her place and salary.

A bubblegum feminist would have, for instance, knowingly or unknowingly, allowed Tejpal somehow to believe that he was allowed to invade her personal space, would have thought that she could say and behave any which way she wants – that that is her “right”. And that Tejpal should just indulge it. She wouldn’t have reacted to his misbehaviour in the beginning because she would feel confused and scared that he didn’t play the game according to her rules – she was just not expecting it. And when she finally got her head around it, she would respond with fury – want revenge from him for breaking the rules of the silly games she was used to playing. Her vengeful whim as a bratty, half-formed woman who wants everything to go her way fits in wonderfully well with the inherent contradiction our society faces between tradition and modernity – and voila– she would have all the TV channels, and anyone who is anyone, scrambling to be more fiercely patriarchal and protective of her than the khap panchayats could themselves dream of being. Because after all, it is always men who are predators – and women who are always damsels in distress. Exactly the way they behaved in your case, the only thing we missed were large pugdis on the heads of our TV “moderators” as they tripped over themselves to protect your “honour”.

I hope you realise that in this“noble” race you have been actively complicit in the event of a man being thrown into jail –  without a trial – purely on the basis of the accusation of assault. You have allowed the most ludicrous comparisons to be made between him and violent rapists. You must be supremely self-indulgent and deeply un-empathetic not to imagine the anguish and bewilderment you would have caused Tejpal’s parents, daughters, relatives and friends. The systematic public humiliation of a person has been wildly out of balance.

You allowed a small occurrence, and I am sorry in the larger picture it is a small occurrence, to be portrayed as ultimate felony. And no questions could be asked of you because you were little Red Riding Hood – too traumatised for any questions; and of Tejpal because he was the big, bad wolf, capable only of hungry howls. Case closed.

So far your case has displayed the most classic attributes of bubblegum feminism. What you have done is not a leg up for women’s freedom and rights, it is reverse female chauvinism.

I hope we can move to a society where exercising women’s rights does not mean stripping men of their rights and dignity.

Your case has certainly not helped


The author can be contacted at sekhrin@gmail.com


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