Prominent Indian journalist Tarun Tejpal was on Friday acquitted by a trial court seven years after he was accused of raping a junior colleague inside an elevator of a five-star hotel in the state of Goa, a verdict activists see as a blow to women’s rights.
The Goa government, however, has said it will challenge the verdict.
“He is acquitted,” said special judge Kshyama Joshi at the Mapusa District and Sessions Court in the coastal state. Mr Tejpal, the then-chief editor of Tehelka magazine, was accused of sexually assaulting an employee inside an elevator of the hotel on the opening night of a ThinkFest event organised by the media company on 7 November, 2013.
The woman had detailed her assault in a mail to the then-managing editor of Tehelka Shoma Chaudhary, and said she was lured into the lift and imprisoned in it by Mr Tejpal. The letter was later leaked in the media, making it a high-profile case.
He was arrested in the same month on 30 November, 2013, by the Goa Crime Branch and granted bail on 1 July, 2014, by the Supreme Court, and has been contesting the allegations since then.
Following the court’s verdict on Friday, the chief minister of Goa said the state government will appeal against this verdict in the High Court.
"The government is very serious about this," Pramod Sawant said.
The verdict is seen by women rights activists in the country as a blow to the country’s MeToo movement with many making their disappointment public.
"The judicial system lets down another woman,” she said. “No wonder women do not want to file a complaint with the police. At the end of it all, the courageous woman did not get even a tiny taste of justice."
Journalist and author Meghna Pant said: “Why are we surprised? This is what our country has taught her, and me, and our million other women: to normalise sexual harassment. When it comes to saving ourselves, we simply don’t know how. Nor does our law.”
The charges were filed before the Goa fast-track court in 2014 but the trial finally began in December 2020 after it was delayed multiple times.
According to The Hindu, the woman was examined and cross-examined for an entire month till January 2021 and the prosecution examined 71 witnesses while the defence had four witnesses.
A few days after the incident, Mr Tejpal offered an apology to his colleague but later pleaded not guilty and said the encounter was consensual.
“It wrenches me beyond describing, therefore, to accept that I have violated that long-standing relationship of trust and respect between us and I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me,” he had said in the apology email.
The victim demanded an anti-sexual harassment cell be set up at Tehelka, as she said his “apology presents an entirely different version from my testimony, ie. attempts to establish that a “sexual liaison” place as opposed to him sexually molesting her.
Mr Tejpal resigned from his position as editor of Tehelka and spent over seven months in jail before being released on bail in 2014.