The Tarun Tejpal episode has put the cat among the pigeons. Tehelka has for long been considered to be an ethical resort area. A brave new world inhabited by intrepid journalists, like Tejpal, who had taken upon themselves the burden of an extraordinary enterprise of exposing the high and the mighty. But when the searchlight was flashed inwards, the continent showed up as just another moral swamp, with the same climate of atrocity and rhythm of destruction that characterizes the rest of our society. Women are no safer; the minds of those who seek their emancipation on their behalf are themselves so much more in need of emancipation. Followed by news of the sexual atrocity come the troubling disclosures of massive financial wheeling dealing, parking of anonymous funds, betrayal and criminal breach of trust. How shall we hold faith, then? If the best of the media is like this how much confidence can the rest inspire?
But the condemnation of Tehelka is not universal like it has been in the case of some other notorious rapes. The lynch mobs have not come out in the streets demanding instant decapitation or hanging. Those who have taken to such measures have been easily dismissed – with a large measure of truth in it – as partisan BJP mobs with scores to settle. In fact, spirited defences have been set up by some media men, politicians and public figures alike. A major political party has actually slipped in a few words edgeways, by way of support also.
The responses to l’affaire Tehelka can be broadly categorized – the first being the one that rightly condemns the rape because all rapes are condemnable and no exception needs to be made here. This is the response of common people who are unaligned and not too political. There are some channels who have gone in to an overdrive discussing it on primetime, keeping the issue alive, seemingly seeking justice for the victim. Could the stridency be an unconscious urge to justify themselves to themselves and in the eyes of the people that they are different?
Then there are people who seek to contextualize the incident, narrate the extenuating circumstances and tirelessly describe Tejpal’s revolutionary past. It has been dealt with it extensively but I shall permit myself just one observation. Grave and sudden provocation sometimes do count as mitigating circumstances but this can be termed as nothing but a premeditated and willful act committed by a man who was not so much drunk on alcohol as on a sense of his own power, his fame and the fevered adoration of his acolytes. Heady brew no doubt, but it does not qualify as an extenuating circumstance in the eyes of criminal law nor of prevailing morality.
A columnist in bhadas4media.com plays the devil’s advocate. His contention is that Tejpal is being targeted because his Tehelka was different and it reminded the others of their own inadequacy. Then he goes on to tar every one with the same brush: burked instances of sexual exploitation, conspiracy of silence, pimping for the corporate, suppression of stories, blackmail and extortion are itemized with malicious glee. But his logic of moral relativism does not go too far. He is even more grievously wrong when he insinuates about the misdemeanour of others stopping short of full disclosures. But now is the time to light up the spooky corners, to unmask the charlatans. His rhetoric can be described what Umberto Eco calls ‘a private communication between power groups which leapfrogs the citizen denying him his viewpoint ‘and leaving women as insecure as ever. To that extent it is both anti- democratic and contrary to the credo of healthy journalism.
Not that his disclosures come as a big surprise. The Radia tapes have already shown many media men in their role as power brokers, as political go-betweens, and corporate fixers. They are also into the business of money making like everyone else. Sometime back a blog serialized the libertine lifestyle, the parties and sleeping around in a TV news channel and some of the leading lights could be identified. The action on behalf of the channel was both prompt and peremptory. The authors of the mischief were spotted, promptly sacked and for good measure it was insured that their future did not look too rosy. But that has not deterred a section of the media from seceding to a hidden planet with their own “inverse surrounding values,” a culture of their own where profligacy, unabashed hedonism and promiscuity are the dominant gestures. No wonder women are viewed as the ultimate consumption value. In the newly invented idiom of the place rape becomes “mild sexual banter”, “the easiest way to keep the job.” So why this outrage?
“This is the paradox of public space”, says the maverick Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek, “even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.” This is what this girl – or the other girl in the matter of the retired judge – has done. By merely articulating the wrong done to her in a full throated manner she has asserted not only the claims of women to an equal share of the workplace but radicalized the whole atmosphere. In her – and the likes of her, they are not beholden to a name – one can see the emerging image of the new Indian woman.
But young and inexperienced as she is, she has to learn many things especially how things work in the real world, the foremost among them is that Power has only masculine gender. That is why when Shoma Chawdhary – dubbed as a turn coat of her sex –connived with the powerful Tejpal for as long as it was feasible, trying to broker peace and bury the deed, she was only following the logic of power which is devoid of imagination, a dehumanizing apparatus in its own right. So it happens that women are as much unsafe in presence of cult figures and fountainheads of power whether Sant Asaram or Tarun Tejpal, whether in the tutelage of an incestuous father or in police custody. But things are beginning to change; things are bound to change and the society should feel indebted to the courage of such individuals.