New Delhi: A sessions court in Goa on Friday acquitted journalist Tarun Tejpal of sexually assaulting a former female colleague. Special judge Kshyama Joshi pronounced the judgment.
Tejpal, former Tehelka editor-in-chief, was accused of sexually assaulting the colleague inside the elevator of a luxury hotel in Goa in 2013.
The acquittal comes despite Tejpal acknowledging in an email to the colleague soon after the incident that he did not have her consent for his sexual acts:
“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.”
The trial had begun in 2018 but then was delayed for several reasons, including Tejpal’s petitions asking that he be discharged from the case. The trial finally began in December 2020. According to The Hindu, the complainant was cross-examined for an entire month, which lawyers say was the longer-ever cross-examination in Goa’s legal history.
Speaking to reporters soon after the verdict was announced, Goa prosectors said the state would be appealing the verdict in the high court “for sure”.
The trial court had earlier adjourned pronouncement of the verdict in the case on three occasions, citing various reasons. The court was to deliver the verdict on April 27, but the judge had adjourned it to May 12. On May 12, it was further adjourned to May 19 and on May 19, it was adjourned to May 21.
The Goa police 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 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).
In a 2,684-page chargesheet filed before the Goa fast-track court, the police had said there was enough evidence against Tejpal.
Tejpal’s daughter Cara Tejpal read out a statement on her father’s behalf, NDTV reported, asserting that Tejpal had been “falsely accused”. “It is with profound respect that I thank this court for its rigorous, impartial and fair trial and for its thorough examination of CCTV footage and other empirical material on record,” Tejpal’s statement said.
Many pointed out that this document was prepared even before the verdict – the statement was originally dated May 19, two days before the verdict.
Statement from the Tejpal family: pic.twitter.com/A48jgednyS
— Smita (@smitagnair) May 21, 2021
A few days after the alleged incident in 2013, the complainant had written to her senior at Tehelka, journalist Shoma Chaudhry, detailing what had happened. Tejpal himself sent an email to survivor after that, apologising for his behaviour, and admitting the non-consensual nature of the encounter,
Tejpal also wrote to Chaudhry, saying the incident was “a bad lapse of judgement, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident that rails against all we believe in and fight for”.
At the time, the survivor had insisted that an anti-sexual harassment cell be set up at Tehelka, so the matter could be dealt with formally. “Given that his apology presents an entirely different version from my testimony, ie. attempts to establish that a “sexual liaison” took place as opposed to him sexually molesting me, I insist once again in the spirit of justice, to constitute an anti-sexual harassment cell in accordance with Vishakha Guidelines,” she had said.
Tejpal then went on six-months’ leave for the duration of the internal inquiry. In the meanwhile, the Goa police took suo motu cognisance of the allegations and filed a case against Tejpal.
(With PTI inputs)