Celebrity Stature Acts Like An Aphrodisiac
Tarun Tejpal, founder and Editor of Tehelka magazine who allegedly subjected a junior colleague to sexual harassment leading to ‘rape’ is in ‘good’ company. And what one understands of his fetish for the company of rich, powerful and famous, he would feel privileged, one supposes. Several CEOs, a former judge of the Supreme Court, a former minister and a few politicians have also been accused of sexual harassment.
A senior woman British MP hinted what all women have to go through before being chosen to fight for the House of Commons. “You don’t know what we all women have to go through to be able to reach this House.” President Bill Clinton is widely known for his ‘sessions’ with Monica Lewinsky but not many know, that a case of harassment was filed against him by one Paula Corbin Jones.
She alleged that Bill Clinton propositioned her and exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room when he was governor of Arkansas and she was a low-level state employee. After a lengthy legal battle, in an outside court settlement, Clinton paid $85,0000.
Amongst Indians, David Davidar, when he was CEO, Penguin Int in Canada, was accused of alleged sexual harassment. He returned to India. And in what is likely to dent the image of Supreme Court judges, who usually lead a spotless life, a young lawyer made allegations of sexual harassment by an apex court judge who had retired. She was doing internship with the apex court judge when she was sexually harassed by him in December last year. The girl alleged that the judge, who was “old enough to be her grandfather”, harassed her in a hotel room at a time when Delhi and the entire nation was on the boil over the December 16 gang-rape case.
She said in ‘Legally India’, “I have heard of three other cases (of sexual harassment) by the same judge and I know of at least four other girls who’ve faced harassment from other judges – not perhaps as (bad as mine): most of them were in the chambers of the judge and other people around, so it never gets too bad. A girl I know faced continuous sexual harassment throughout and sexual advances, and actually faced troubles through her work because of it.”
An anti-sexual harassment committee, which was set up by the order of a bench, headed by the then Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, then named Justice A.K. Ganguly. He has denied all allegations.
So Justice Ganguly is allegedly in the same boat as Tejpal, who would possibly feel more exalted to learn that, five top senior CEOs and Heads of major groups, have also been embroiled in sexual harassment charges. They include, apart from Davidar, Phaneesh Murthy, Global Sales Head of Infosys, C. Venkataramana, chief marketing officer, India Cellular, Gopal Kanda, Promoter MDLR Airlines and a India’s Retail head of a foreign bank, whose name was not disclosed.
The only difference is that, while Tejpal is in jail, most escaped incarceration. Clinton kept his Presidency despite facing impeachment. But then Tejpal, notwithstanding, his reach to top politicians, left-secularists and bigwigs in the media and being favoured for some reason by powers that be and immense wealth is not US President.
His reach could be gauged from the fact that Sonia Gandhi, soon after the UPA-1 came to power, wrote to Dr Mammohan Singh, attaching a petition from Tejpal for quashing of three cases filed against him by the NDA government. Dr Singh wrote back that ministries concerned were asked to look into the matter. One never heard of those cases again.
But now no VIP would dare come out openly in his support because media, both print and electronic are fighting for justice for the victim. Apart from the victim, herself being a journalist, she is the daughter of a respected, senior journalist, whose career was cut short due to a tragic accident. It was, however, rumoured that five central ministers were on the job trying to help Tejpal through remote control. The Home Minister, in fact asked the Goa Government to send the complete file of the Tejpal case, although the matter is completely under the jurisdiction of the State Government.
Tejpal was so sure of his power and contacts with top political leaders and of his numerous left-secular friends in the media and otherwise that he did not even bother to set up an Internal Complaints Committee as per the Supreme Court guideline laid down in Vishaka and Others Vs. State of Rajasthan and Others (JT 1997 (SC 384) case.
Taking note of the fact that the present civil and penal laws in India did not adequately provide for specific protection of women from sexual harassment in work places or institutions, the Court issued certain guidelines that included setting up a Complaints Committee headed by a woman by all businesses and institutions. It was required to submit annually a detailed report of complaints and actions taken.
In fact, India Inc has not taken the issue of sexual harassment seriously enough, Tejpal would be pleased to know. TV Mohandas Pai, chairman, Manipal Global Education, and former Board member of Infosys Limited said so. “Only when sexual harassment victims start claiming monetary damages from companies, for not putting in adequate checks and balances, and for the mental and physical turmoil, will Indian companies sit up and take notice.”
But now the quick and severe action as laid down in various sections of the penal code in the case against Tejpal has brought in focus harassment of women in workplaces. Although harassing is not exclusive to India, but in all western countries, there are Protection Against Harassment Acts.
But in India, the Protection against Sexual Harassment Act was passed only in April this year, a similar Act in the UK and the US having been passed in 1997 and 1991. Worse, since the Central Government has not issued any notification it is still not enforceable. Why is it so? Male chauvinism or feudal thinking, women are subservient to men.
The Tejpal case has ripped the lid off the hypocrisy and an utter lack of gender rights at workplaces. It is stated in UK Law that it is illegal to sexually harass anyone in the workplace No-one goes to work to be abused, harassed or discriminated against because of their gender. No-one should wake up, anxious in the morning worried if the boss is going to have a crafty grope again today. It is not acceptable for employers or your colleagues to abuse you, by making crude, suggestive, derogatory remarks or sexual innuendo.
But unfortunately in India it’s free for all. An attractive looking constable in Lucknow posted at a police station in older part of the city took to going out to select clients. She said as a matter of fact that since “Darogaji ne zabardasti kiya hamare saath” she decided to earn on the side. No case of harassment for her, she was too poor and semi-literate. A large number of young girls and women would travel over a mile to work at a particular farm on Lucknow-Rae Bareli road, avoiding a few farms near their villages. They said they did not feel safe at those farms.
The sexual harassment women have to face in India is surprising because the women workforce is just two per cent. Yet it has stimulated mens’ adrenalin. Women are working in all fields, but in the media, banks, shops and call centres, they are in significant numbers. And of course at farms! The harassment is most rampant at farms, but the women labour has no knowledge about their rights.
The Tajpal case also ripped off the lid over hypocrisies our High Society frequenters suffer from. Comments online and a few who participated in TV debates to sympathise with Tejpal and their undertone that mirrored their view of the victim–a nobody having no right to accuse a man with the stature and position of their friend Tejpal. Yes, the riposte to their sympathy elicited was so severe that it shut up such hypocrites.
The celebrities in all fields, in India, consider themselves beyond law and care too hoots for the opinion of the people. They live in a surreal world where all are denied entry except their hangers-on and of course pimps ranging from those who drive custom-built Mercs to those who bring “pleasure toys” in taxis. A late minister at the Centre, who also was a governor had rather innocently said, “What can I do they bring you know whom. I can hardly refuse.”
Quite right! But Tejpal used prostitutes for his string operations. His kind has women fawning and falling on them. So quite righteously he would pontificate for others after Tehelka would come out with revelations following a string operation with the ethics and moral codes one should not violate. He posed to be the Guru of the righteous. What a hypocrite!
He has now been caught allegedly with pants down. Just like another VIP Abhishek Singhvi. Tejpal as one said earlier is in good company of the powerful and the rich. Whether the victim would get justice or not is to be seen. For the Tejpals, unfortunately, a different yardstick exists in the society. Why else is the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act not being made effective in India. Is it because the celebrities want to continue pursuit of their ‘titillating pleasure’?
By Vijay Dutt