Urvashi Butalia refuses to head Tehelka panel to probe sexual assault charge against Tejpal



Noted feminist and director of publishing house Zubaan Books Urvashi Butalia has refused to head Tehelka’s internal complaints committee set up to probe sexual assault allegations against its editor Tarun Tejpal, saying it was now not needed as the case was being investigated by police.

In a letter to Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury, Butalia, Director of Zubaan Books publishing house, said she was recusing herself from heading the committee under the Vishakha guidelines.

She was appointed by Tehelka to head its internal probe panel.

In a tweet, Zubaan Books said today, “Zubaan would like to clarify that our director Urvashi Butalia is not on the committee Tehelka was planning to set up in line with the Vishakha guidelines, nor on any other committee related to the Tejpal case. On Friday the 22nd of November, Urvashi wrote to @ShomaChaudhury, saying any such committee that was planned was redundant now that due process under the law had begun.”

Responding to the above statement, Tehalka said on a social networking site today, “Since last Thursday, Tehelka has requested several people to be a part of the Sexual Harassment Enquiry Committee in Tehelka, including eminent people like Urvashi Butalia, Inakshi Ganguly, Sharmila Tagore, Justice Leela Seth, Prem Shankar Jha, Uma Chakravarti, Vrinda Grover, and several others.

“Tehelka has also written to the complainant journalist asking her to suggest some names for the committee, but she hasn’t replied. However, despite all our efforts, there is a strong sense amongst lawyers and activists that, given that a criminal enquiry by Goa police was started on Thursday itself and a criminal case has now been filed, an Enquiry Committee would not have any legal standing.

“Hence, many of the people Tehelka has approached wish to recuse themselves from the committee. We are trying to persuade them to reconsider and remain committed to having such a committee to investigate this matter.”

Noted feminist and publisher Urvashi Butalia on Tuesday said that she will not be a part of the committee to probe charge of sexual assault against Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal.

Tehelka’s managing editor Shoma Chaudhury had said last week that a formal complaints committee had been constituted in accordance to the Vishaka guidelines.

Chaudhury had said that the committee would be presided over by Butalia to investigate the matter.

“Zubaan would like to clarify that our director Urvashi Butalia is not on the committee Tehelka was planning to set up in line with the Vishaka guidelines, nor on any other committee related to the Tejpal case,” the publishing house founded by Butalia tweeted on her behalf.

On Monday, the young Tehelka journalist, who accused her Tejpal of sexually assaulting her earlier this month at a Goa hotel, resigned saying she was “deeply traumatized by the lack of support offered by the organization”.

Tehelka’s photo editor Ishan Tankha, one of the people the young woman confided in immediately after the alleged assaults, also resigned.

In her resignation letter, emailed to Chaudhury and a handful of senior editors, the young woman reiterated that she is not satisfied with the measures taken by Chaudhury to address her trauma.

“Given the sequence of events since the 7th of November, it is not just Mr Tejpal who has failed me as an employer – but Tehelka that has failed women, employees, journalists and feminists collectively,” the journalist wrote. Chaudhury refused to respond to calls and text messages asking if the young woman’s resignation has been accepted.

Expressing hurt at the way Chaudhury let her down despite promising to do the “right thing”, the young woman says in her letter: “His (Tejpal’s) public acknowledgement of the apology did not include any reference to his grievous sexual misconduct, and you had still failed to set up an anti-sexual harassment cell as per Vishaka guidelines. This could, in no way, have left me satisfied… You continued to ignore my rebuttals to these emails, while insisting, in public, that I was satisfied.”

The young woman further writes: “Over the past years, we have collectively defended the rights of women, written about custodial rape and sexual molestation at the workplace.”

“We have spoken out harshly against the culture of victim blame and the tactical emotional intimidation and character assassination of those who dare to speak out against sexual violence… at a time when I find myself victim to such a crime, I am shattered to find the editor in chief of Tehelka, and you – in your capacity as managing editor- resorting to precisely these tactics of intimidation, character assassination and slander,” she wrote.

The Goa Police that is investigating the case said that it will take the young woman to Panjim on Tuesday to record her statement.


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