‘Woman Didn’t Behave Like Rape Victim’: Why Court Acquitted Tejpal

Former Tehelka Editor-in-Chief Tarun Tejpal was acquitted of charges of rape and sexual assault by a Goa court.

4 min read
Former Tehelka Editor-in-Chief Tarun Tejpal.

(Trigger Warning: The following article contains descriptions of sexual assault. Reader discretion advised.)

Former Tehelka Editor-in-Chief Tarun Tejpal was acquitted of charges of rape and sexual assault by a district court in Goa, as the survivor did not "behave" like a "victim of sexual assault".

The trial court held that the "woman's behavior" was a key factor in "undermining her case", the order said.

According to The Indian Express, Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi, in the 537-page judgment wrote:

“It is extremely revealing that the prosecutrix’s (victim) account neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that a prosecutrix of sexual assault on consecutive two nights might plausibly show nor does it show any such behaviour on the part of the accused.”

Tejpal was accused of raping and sexually assaulting a former colleague in 2013, in a Goa hotel.

He was booked under IPC Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (sexual harassment), 354A(1)(I)(II) (demand for sexual favours), 354B (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). Tejpal was acquitted of all charges on Friday, 21 May, seven years after the case was first filed.

‘Unnatural Behaviour of Woman’ – What Does Trial Court Mean?

According to the court, it was "unnatural" that a woman will "message her location" in the hotel. The incident allegedly occurred in the hotel elevator on 7 and 8 November 2013.

“If the prosecutrix had been recently again been sexually assaulted by the accused and was terrified of him and not in a proper state of mind, why would she report to the accused and disclose to him her location, when she could have reported to (three women)…” the court said in the order.

Justice Joshi added that the woman admitted that two SMSes were sent from her phone and that those were not sent as "response to any message”.

“The prosecutrix sending the above message to the accused proactively without any attempt by him to ask her where she was, and her sending the same message thrice in the span of a very few minutes, clearly establishes that the prosecutrix was not traumatised nor terrified...”
Justice Kshama Joshi

What Did the Court Say About Tejpal’s ‘Apology’ Email

The charge sheet in 2014 had produced Tejpal’s “formal apology e-mail” written to the then managing editor of Tehelka Shoma Chaudhury. The email was written on 19 November 2013.

In the email, Tejpal says: “…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.”

However, the court was of the view that the "personal apology" was not sent voluntarily but due to "intimidation".

“The personal apology was not sent voluntarily by the accused but that it was sent due to the explicit pressure and intimidation by the prosecutrix on PW45 (Prosecution Witness 45, the then managing director of Tehelka) to act swiftly and also due to the inducement and promise made by the prosecutrix to PW45, which in turn was communicated to the accused, that the matter would be closed at the institutional level if the accused were to tender an apology,” the court said in the order.


‘Doubts on Her Truthfulness’

The court also observed that before lodging of the FIR in the case, the woman had reached out to prominent lawyers, and other journalists. This, the court said, indicates a ‘possibility of doctoring of events and adding of incidents.’

“There are many facts which have come on record which create doubt on the truthfulness of the prosecutrix. There is also no medical evidence on record on account of delay in lodgement of FIR and as the prosecutrix had refused to go for medical examination. If the FIR was lodged immediately, then, perhaps, there could have been some swelling in the vagina or presence of saliva of the accused therein, in view of the nature of.”

Justice Joshi also observed that the Investigating Officer (IO) seemed to have committed several lapses while conducting the investigation. The order states:

  • Crucial evidence pertaining to CCTV footage was missing and was not produced before the court by the IO
  • The statements of certain witnesses were not recorded despite them showing willingness
  • No empirical data to show how a button on the lift panel can keep the doors closed when the lift is stationary between floors
  • No verification on how the buttons on the lift panel could be pressed to facilitate commission of any crime

The Goa government moved the Bombay High Court on 25 May. “This is injustice meted out to a woman. In Goa, we will not accept this… With the kind of evidence and documents we had in the case, it could not have led to an acquittal. This is very sad,” Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said.

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