One way of exploring this question is that we don’t start frothing in the mouth discussing Tejpal but rather in the clear, cold, light of the day we discuss the new awareness of violence against women sweeping the country. The question to be asked is has the tide turned? Are women more secure from sexual predators like Tejpal? Are we witnessing a generational shift in relationships between Indian men and women? The short answer to these important and troubling questions is, no. Far from it. As a matter of fact the ground reality could be worse than any time before.
So then what about all the heated debates on television, the din and fury of Vishaka guidelines, the formation of committees in the corporate environment to tackle these issues head on. Ask the women who bear the brunt and then you will know the real truth. Yes in many corporates these committees are in place but let it be said that both the complainant and the presiding authorities are extremely nervous and unsure of the efficacy of the very system they only have set up. The biggest fear a woman complainant faces is that very often when she complains and seeks redressal, it signals the end of her corporate career. She becomes a pariah within her own organization (even though she might win the case) and if she steps out for a new job she might as well wear a placard around her neck saying ‘Stay away or be burned.’
Let’s step away from the corporate environment and take a look at what’s happening in aam admi India. Violence and sexual assaults against women in the comforts of their homes is at an all-time high. Women are subjected to verbal and physical assaults and rapes not only by their depraved husbands but very often by the father – in – law, the older brother of the husband and certainly the mother – in – law also joins in. Sometimes grown up sons are also not immune from this bestiality.
So keeping this background in mind how should we deal with Mr Tejpal? Should we give him a fair trial or like in the Arushi case we build up such tremendous, media pressure that no judge can afford to be lenient with this man. Friends, at this stage, I am going to propound a theory which might not be very popular but I think it needs to be told. Before I talk about that let me say that first we must identify who are all the people who have formed a lynch mob; people who are shouting themselves hoarse that Tejpal should be hanged from the nearest tree.
Certinaly there is a sizeable segment of people who are genuinely outraged and ashamed that such an alleged perversion was inflicted by Tejpal in an elevator on the unsuspecting girl. But I promise you friends that there are sizeable numbers of people also who in a day have become vigilantes – the rent a hire knights, who are waging battle of crime against women. Many of these people are the worst kind of perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence, in the privacy of their offices and homes; some perhaps a bit more subtle and the others blatant in what they do.
The Tehelka case is actually giving a fig leaf to these people to hide behind; say one thing in public and practise something else in private. Slowly but surely the lynch mob is gaining strength and we only have to see history the way a lynch mob acts and the brunt of the results we have to bear thereafter. In both 1984 and then in 1992, terrible crimes had been committed initially but what followed after that was nothing short of barbaric. It changed the political and social discourse of the country.
I suspect that something similar will happen if we go down the path of the lynch mob. Tejpal will be crucified but all the other perpetrators out there will smilingly appear on television proclaiming ‘we told you so’ and they will all go back and commit their crimes with more impunity. That is all that a lynch mob can do.
So then it is important that Tarun Tejpal is given a fair trial; he is given every possible chance to explain his side of the story. We have to keep this daily tamasha of lynch mob panels on television under check and not influencing debate. Let the judge decide his fate objectively, without rhetoric. If he is to be hanged then he is to be hanged in a cold, dispassionate way that sends a chilling message to each and every one that such crimes will not easily be forgotten or forgiven.