Tejpal acquittal likely to deter other victims from reporting sexual assault cases: Activists

·5-min read

New Delhi, May 21 (PTI) Several women's rights activists on Friday questioned the grounds on which journalist Tarun Tejpal was acquitted in a rape case and said the Goa court's verdict would deter other women from coming forward to report cases of sexual assault and abuse.

Some of the activists pointed out that Tejpal had himself admitted to attempting to assault the woman and tendered apology, and said the judgement is disappointing and demotivating.

Tejpal, then the editor-in-chief of Tehelka, was accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague inside the elevator of a five-star hotel in Goa. In the wake of sexual assault allegations, Tejpal stepped down as the editor-in-chief of Tehelka.

The case had become a test of the amended law against sexual assault that expanded the definition of sexual assault and made punishment stricter.

After a sessions court in Goa acquitted Tejpal, women rights activist and cyber safety expert Akancha Srivastava said he had himself admitted that he attempted to assault her.

'Half of these cases don't even go in court and those which reach court and are fought and then to have this judgement is extremely demotivating. When a person has already accepted that he has misbehaved, then on what grounds has he been let off. If he is saying he did then he did it,' she said.

'When we set precedent with such verdicts then we deter more and more victims from coming forward to filing cases and fighting it,” she said.

All India Progressive Women's Association secretary Kavita Krishnan said the judicial system lets down another woman and the survivor had to go through hell.

'The judicial system lets down another woman. No wonder women do not want to file a complaint with the police,” she said in a tweet.

Krishnan said Tejpal penned several apologies admitting to the incident.

'Goa police took suo motu notice, got FIR filed. Since then the survivor has been dragged through hell,” she tweeted.

'The hell of being yanked around by police, courts, repeatedly to Goa. The hell of having this case tied to her neck like an albatross. The hell of systematic slander campaigns against her by TT (Tarun Tejpal) and Friends. Her integrity being smeared in court and in social parties,' Krishnan said in another tweet.

She said at the end of it all, the courageous woman did not get even a tiny taste of justice. Rape trials are deeply violent towards survivors. 'Yet again, a survivor has been demeaned, humiliated, and let down,” she tweeted.

Chhavi Methi of the Bharatiya Samajik Jagritik Sanghatan said the judgement was disappointing.

'It is disappointing for the whole humanity because it sets the precedent that someone who has power can get away with anything without any repercussions for their actions,” Methi said.

Talking about the amended law, human rights lawyer Shilpi Jain said the new law expanded the ambit of rape to include cases of sexual assault other than sexual intercourse.

'Tejpal's case was included in this expanded definition of law (IPC Section 376). Because of this new law which has been brought in as a knee-jerk reaction to 2013 (Nirbhaya case) we will have more and more cases like that of Tarun Tejpal which will end up nowhere. This verdict was a writing on the wall as this law is bound to become a tool to blackmail men...as in case of sexual intercourse there is some kind of corroborative evidence,” she said.

'I feel the previous law was proper and the only thing they needed to do was Section 354 which is outraging the modesty of a woman instead of making it bailable they should have increased punishment and made it non-bailable. Now with this amendment they have gone from one extreme to the other,” she said.

The nationwide public outcry, in 2012, following the December 16 gang rape and murder in Delhi led to the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2013 which widened the definition of rape and made punishment more stringent.

Parliament made the amendments on the recommendation of the Justice J S Verma Committee, which was constituted to re-look the criminal laws in the country and recommend changes.

The 2013 Act, which came into effect on April 2, 2013, increased jail terms in most sexual assault cases and also provided for the death penalty in rape cases that cause death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state.

It also created new offences, such as use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking.

The punishment for gang rape was increased to 20 years to life imprisonment from the earlier 10 years to life imprisonment.

Earlier, there was no specific provision in law for offences such as use of unwelcome physical contact, words or gestures, demand or request for sexual favours, showing pornography against the will of a woman or making sexual remarks. But, the 2013 Act clearly defined these offences and allocated punishment. Similarly, stalking was made punishable with up to three years in jail. The offence of acid attack was increased to 10 years of imprisonment.

The Goa police had registered an FIR against Tejpal in November 2013, following which he was arrested.

The Goa crime branch had filed a charge sheet against Tejpal, who has been out on bail since May 2014.

He faced the trial under IPC sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty), 354-A (sexual harassment), 354-B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 376(2)(f) (person in a position of authority over women, committing rape) and 376(2)k) (rape by a person in a position of control). PTI UZM SMN SMN

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