The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) is deeply disturbed by the judgement pronounced by a District & Sessions Court at Mapusa, Goa, on May 21, 2021, acquitting journalist Tarun Tejpal, the Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka magazine, who was charged, in 2013, with the rape, unlawful confinement and sexual harassment of a young woman journalist working at the magazine. 


In what is a new low for cases of sexual assault, the 527-page judgement in State (through CID CB North Goa)vs Tarunjit Tejpal persistently shames the survivor as though she were the one on trial[1].The judgement by Additional Sessions Judge Kshama M. Joshi sets out standards for a “sterling witness” and the “normative” look of a traumatised woman, ripping the survivor apart as she “failed to pass any of the tests”.


The judgement completely gives short shrift to consent, the defining factor in sexual assault including rape. In doing so, it ignores apology emails by Tejpal himself including one in which he acknowledged a “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”. Despite the fact that in this email, Tejpal admitted to non-consensual conduct towards the survivor, and despite the fact that consent was vital to adjudicate the matter because of the repeated unequivocal testimony of the survivor that she did not consent and kept saying “no”, the judgement disregards the issue of consent.


During the course of the trial, the survivor had to approach the Bombay High Court at Goa against the hostile and humiliating cross-examination relating to her personal life that she was subjected to in the trial court. The High Court had in December 2019 ordered the trial court to protect her from such “extraneous and irrelevant questioning”[2].Nevertheless, the judgement by the trial court cites and publishes many of the personal details extracted from her during the unlawful cross-examination.


[Source: Unsplash]

This victim-blaming and shaming judgement is eerily reminiscent of the 1979 verdict in the ‘Mathura’rape case[3] (Tukaram and Anr versus State of Maharashtra) wherein policemen accused of raping an Adivasi minor were acquitted by the Supreme Court, claiming the fact that she was “habituated to sex” and concluding that “no marks of injury” on her body proved consent.


Forty years on, it is appalling to read a judgement that accuses a sexual assault survivor of not doing enough to protect herself, cites her sexual history and accusesher ofnot looking sufficiently devastated, ignoring the guidelines laid down by judgements of the Supreme Court and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013.


This is NWMI’s deep dive into the judgement, which we believe is a grave miscarriage of justice and a massive setback for the Indian women’s rights movement and the safety of women journalists in particular.


State vs Tarunjit Tejpal


The case dates back to November 2013 when the survivor, then 27, was an employee at Tehelka magazine. She had complained to her senior in Tehelka that Tejpal sexually assaulted her twice including by forcefully lifting her clothes, groping and penetrating her digitally and orally while she was in an elevator with him during Think festival, an event organised by Tehelka in Goa on November 7 and 8. Tejpal is the founder and owner of Tehelka magazine in addition to being the Editor-in-Chief at the time of the incident.


When the survivor’s internal complaint became public knowledge through media reports, the Goa government registered a police complaint against Tejpal. He was charged under the Indian Penal Code’s Sections 354 A (sexual harassment), 376 (rape) and 376(2)(k) (rape of a woman by a person being in a position of control or dominance over the woman). Police later added charges under IPC Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 376(2)(f) (person in a position of trust or authority over women, committing rape of such women), 376 C (sexual intercourse by a person in authority) and 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty).


Tejpal was arrested on November 30, 2013, and secured bail seven months later on July 1, 2014. It took nearly four years for the ‘fast track’court trial to commence – on September 7, 2017[4].


(Scroll to the end for a detailed timeline of events)


Person ‘in a position of trust or authority’

[Source- DNA India]

The Tejpal case is one of the first  prominent cases in India to be tried and prosecuted under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013[5], which marked the culmination of decades of struggle by the country’s women’s rights movement for an expansion of the legal definitions of the acts that constituted rape and the contexts in which consent is given. The new law recognised that when a person is “in a position of trust or authority”, he has to be held to stricter standards than other individuals while determining whether he had secured consent for a sexual encounter. The reasoning for this is that the power he wields over the woman could include not just physical force but also a psychological and/or emotional sway in addition to influence that could affect her earning capacity, ruin her position within her family, social circle and/or profession and even destroy her professionally if she antagonises him.


In this context it is important to note that Tejpal was a powerful entity in the survivor’s profession at large and in the organisation that employed her, thats he had known him from childhood as a family friend, as her father’s former colleague and friend, a man she went so far as to describe as a “paternal figure” in her written complaint to Tehelka.


The vulnerability of her situation was reflected in the IPC sections under which Tejpal was charged by the Goa Crime Branch.Section 376(2)(f)covers a category of accused who “being a relative, guardian or teacher of, or a person in a position of trust or authority towards the woman, commits rape on such woman”. Section 376(2)(k) covers a category of accused who “being in a position of control or dominance over a woman, commits rape on such woman”.Conviction under these sections attracts a minimum penalty of 10 years rigorous imprisonment (the punishment for rape not covered by these sections is 7 years).

Furthermore, according to Section 114A of the Indian Evidence Act[6] (an amendment introduced in 1983 in the aftermath of the nationwide outrage over the Mathura rape case judgement),“where sexual intercourse by the accused is proved and the question is whether it was without the consent of the woman alleged to have been raped and such woman states in her evidence before the court that she did not consent, the court shall presume that she did not consent.” This law was a result of activism demanding that a woman’s testimony on whether or not she had given consent should be made paramount in law.


These new laws, while progressive and sensitive to survivors’ concerns on paper, have presented a challenge to survivors, law enforcers, lawyers, the judiciary and activists alike.It has taken activists a long time to get the law to acknowledge that medical evidence is not the primary determining factor in rape and other forms of sexual assault, but the implementation of these evolved laws is even more dependent than usual on robust investigation,the education of investigating officers regarding the nuances of the law, and sensitisation of the legal community, including the judiciary, as well as the media.


The judgement in the Tejpal case is a disturbing example of the redundancy of legal reforms when not accompanied by extensive sensitisation of the judicial establishment. The entire edifice of the judgement is built on slandering the survivor through a detailed and hostile scrutiny of her personal and professional life both before and after the incident, rather than the core issue of the act of violence done to her without her consent. Another core issue, that of sexual harassment at the workplace, has not even been adequately adjudicated, save for a concession that the accused was in a position of power. Throughout the eight-year-long process to secure justice, all the odds were stacked against the survivor. There were multiple attempts to intimidate her, her personal data was obtained, her request to depose through video-conferencing on account of rampant Covid-19 infections was rejected and a warrant was issued for her appearance in the trial in the midst of the pandemic.


The trial and judgement are reminders, if any were needed, of how women’s reputations and peace of mind are mutilated if they bravely step up to speak out against sexual violence, which is why so few women do.


Discrediting the survivor


The defence team’s strategy in Tejpal’s case appears to have been to take the focus away from the evidence against him, including his own apology emails, and instead undermine the survivor’s testimony solely by continuously referring to her personal life or other factors unconnected with the incident.


The approach to discrediting her was three-pronged: obfuscate by referring to irrelevant details of her personal life and burying her under a mountain of such questions;vitiate by probing her sexual history which, repeat, is not admissible by law; violate her right to privacy and that of those close to her by citing WhatsApp messages to friends in years preceding the incident that were on her mobile phone.


Permitting defence lawyers to cite a survivor’s sexual history violates Sections 53 A and 146 of the Indian Evidence Act[7], under which it is neither lawful nor relevant to ask such questions in a prosecution of rape and where consent is in question.It is the court’s duty to prohibit and regulate the cross-examination. In this case, not only were defence lawyers allowed this line of questioning, incessantly, but their interrogation of the survivor is prominently displayed in the judgement which is now in the public domain.


In June 2016, Tejpal had obtained permission from a Goa court for an in-camera trial even during examination of witnesses other than the survivor.The legal provision for in-camera trials in rape cases was introduced to safeguard the privacy of rape survivors in a society that stigmatises them. It is therefore ironic that the provision was used here by the accused[8] for his protection while a mockery has been made of the survivor’s right to privacy,especially now that the judgement has reproduced large parts of the insensitive and repeated cross-examination to which she was subjected.


As per the aforementioned plea submitted by the survivor to the High Court of Bombay at Goa in December 2019[9], during the relentless cross-examination regarding her mobile communication with third parties unrelated to the case, she was bombarded with questions intended to shame, traumatise and exhaust her. In its entirety, the survivor’s cross-examination lasted from October 2019 till January 2021, compelling her to put her life on hold for repeated court appearances in Goa. The contents of the cross-exam run into more than 700 pages, which is longer than the judgement.


Although on October 31, 2019, the judge in the trial court had verbally upheld the survivor’s objections to questions violating the protections offered by the Indian Evidence Act, in the courtroom, these irrelevant and aggressive questions had continued. They ultimately found their way into the judgement.


The punishment in the process


The survivor recorded in her application to the Bombay High Court at Goa in December 2019[10] that she broke down and was traumatised in the courtroom on being subjected to hostile and illegal continued cross-examination on her sexual history and even her parents’ sexual history, and that the defence hectored her while asking her to recollect and confirm private messages unrelated to the case which were displayed on the court’s computer screen. The survivor’s High Court application lists the questions asked by the defence to humiliate her and tarnish her reputation – they are so insulting and distressing in nature, that, in the interests of decency and respect for the survivor’s privacy, NWMI will not restate them here. The questions were so intrusive that the survivor requested the High Court for a physical screen to be placed between her and Tejpal in court during questioning. Her request was based on an existing legal provision that permits a survivor to record her testimony from behind a screen, a provision designed to protect a survivor from the anxiety and intimidation generated by physical proximity to the accused – but her request was denied.


The Bombay High Court did, however, in its order of December 12, 2019, direct the trial court to protect the survivor from “irrelevant and extraneous questioning”; it also allowed her to withhold her name, address and personal details, and to file her verification and affidavit in the High Court in a sealed envelope[11]. But the High Court ruling has been overlooked by the May 21, 2021 judgement in the way it reproduces large sections of the unlawful cross-examination about the survivor’s personal life and other irrelevant, illegal questions along with identifying information such as her personal email and details of her family.This is in violation of Section 228 A of the Indian Penal Code[12],a punishable offence, which prohibits the printing or publishing of “the name or any matter which may make known the identity” of a rape survivor, and the Supreme Court’s guidelines[13] issued in 2019 to protect rape complainants’ confidentiality. (Note: Within days of the judgement being delivered on May 21, 2021, the Government of Goa challenged the order on these and other grounds, calling it “very astonishing” and “erroneous in law”[14].)


During the COVID-19 pandemic the survivor requested that she be excused from a physical appearance in Goa as she was herself unwell and also caring for elderly family members;she requested that she be allowed to give testimony at Goa Sadan in Delhi, in the presence of an appropriate authority. Instead, the judge issued warrants[15] against the survivor, her mother and her spouse on September 4, 2020, for which the survivor had to once again approach the High Court.


Digital strip search


Two years before the trial commenced in 2017, Tejpal had approached the Supreme Court in 2015 through Special Leave Petition 66/2015[16] and obtained a cloned copy of the survivor’s mobile phone as part of the “relevant documents” of the case (since some SMS and email communication between them had been cited as evidence against him in 2013). He thus ended up with access to nearly 2 lakh messages sent and received by her over several years that had no relevance whatsoever to the case.


The police use mobile phone extraction tools to download the contents of survivors’ mobile phones and other digital devices if these come up in evidence. Indian law lacks guidelinesdirecting investigating agencies not to allow blanket data probes and instead to make them specific and limited to information relevant to the crime. In addition, the digital evidence technology available to Indian investigating agencies is not always up-to-date enough to enable police to collect targeted pieces of evidence from smart phones rather than entire digital copies. This means that, as in the Tarun Tejpal case, an accused could obtain the entire spectrum of a survivor’s virtual communication simply because a couple of emails or SMSes were cited as evidence against him. While this is obviously a massive invasion of privacy irrespective of the nature of the complaint, it is particularly objectionable in rape cases since defence teams in rape cases invariably put the survivor’s character in the dock. Thus the possibility of the accused getting access to her entire digital communication, which could then be weaponised against her, is a particular deterrent to any rape survivor who wishes to file a complaint.


This is not to say that Indian law has never been sensitive to survivors’ privacy concerns in the matter of providing digital access to those accused in rape cases. Tangential though it may be since it does not involve a survivor’s phone, the case of Malayalam actor Dileepis relevant here. Dileep is accused as the prime conspirator in the rape of a woman colleague in the film industry.The main accused had recorded the actual rape on his phone, and those visuals were transferred to a memory card. When Dileep sought a copy of the memory card to prove his innocence, the Kerala government opposed his request. In 2019, the Supreme Court also rejected his plea, citing the overarching privacy and safety concerns of the survivor. The apex court instead permitted him a partial, regulated inspection of the contents of the video under conditions that would ensure the privacy of the survivor. 


In the United Kingdom, the practice of the police storing “full digital data downloads” of the mobile phones of rape complainants for the purpose of investigation was dropped in July 2020 after the cases of two women survivors were taken up in a campaign against this “Digital Strip Search” by the UK’s Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ),and supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. A UK government investigation agreed that“excessive amounts of personal data” were being extracted from survivors[17], and this was deterring them from coming forward.


Campaigners celebrated the end to digital strip searches,with CWJ’s Director Harriet Wistrich saying “they should never have been used in the first place”[18]. It is time for Indian activists and lawmakers to work towards terminating digital strip searches here too, since they end up being a punishment for survivors irrespective of the final outcome of their case.


In the case under discussion here, for one, the access Tejpal’s team got to the survivor’s phone provided them with an ocean of material with which to degrade, demean and harass her in court.


A survivor on trial


The most striking aspects of the judgement in the Tejpal case are:


(A)  that it mirrors the defence arguments


(B) and it simply brushes aside apology emails written by Tejpal himself, including the one in which he concedes that the survivor had not consented to a sexual encounter with him.


(C) The document is full of repetitive and needless detail,


(D) it repeatedly projects the survivor as a liar in its language and its selection of facts,


(E)  and it reads like a public trial of the survivor rather than the accused, that too without regard to the legal requirements of expunging any information or details that can identify her. (Note: the Bombay High Court at Goa has since, on an appeal by the Goa government, on May 27, 2021, directed the trial court to redact all references in the judgement that end up disclosing the survivor’s identity.)


To elaborate:


1) The accused himself admitted to the events in three separate apology emails citing which he chose to “recuse” himself from the office for six months:one he described as an “informal” apology and sent to the survivor; he also sent her a“formal apology”, which is the one quoted earlier in this document. This second email, in which Tejpal admitted to a “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”,unequivocally establishes, in his own words, the non-consensual nature of his actions.


Shockingly, however, the judgement disregards these emails and relies on the testimony of Tehelka’s then managing editor Shoma Chaudhury and Tejpal’s sister Neena Tejpal Sharma, who was also Tehelka’s Chief Operating Officer, to deem the “formal apology” as not voluntary, not drafted or sent by Tejpal (although it was sent from his email address) and not to be held as incriminating evidence against him[19]. Both witnesses had submitted in their testimonies that Tejpal wrote the apology under extreme pressure from them. Although it seems unnatural that Tejpal – one of India’s most influential journalists and Chaudhury’s own senior –would have succumbed to pressure from Chaudhury and Sharma, and it seems inconceivable that the two would have concocted a sexual liaison if none occurred, the judgement accepts their arguments.


The judgement also concludes from Sharma’s and Chaudhury’s testimonies that the personal apology was not sent voluntarily by the accused, but that it was sent due to the explicit pressure and intimidation by prosecutrix on PW45 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”.(Pages 325-326, Paragraph 202; PW45 is Shoma Chaudhury). The claim of “explicit pressure and intimidation” on Chaudhury and Tejpal by the survivor is extraordinary considering that they were her managing editor and editor-in-chief respectively, both nationally known journalists with international connections and about many decades her senior in the profession.


In a subsequent email with the subject line “Atonement”, Tejpal had written to Chaudhury: “The last few days have been most testing, and I squarely take the blame for this. 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. I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist…”This email from Tejpal was circulated by Chaudhury to the entire Tehelka office along with a covering note explaining that he would be stepping down from his position at Tehelka for six months. Not only does this second email establish that Tejpal had indulged in non-consensual conduct towards the survivor, it also corroborates the first email which was a formal apology by him to the survivor.


The court has decided that it cannot rely on these apologies (Pages 324-327, Paragraphs 200-203; and Pages 334-335, Paragraphs 210-211) even though Tejpal admits the three emails, which are part of the prosecution’s evidence against him, were sent from his email account with his knowledge. 


2) The judgement notes that Chaudhury testified to having confronted Tejpal on receiving the survivor’s complaint,at which point he claimed that the survivor “was lying”but admitted that he and the survivor had had a “fleeting sexual encounter”. Chaudhury is quoted as having further testified that “according to the accused the only sexual encounter he had with the prosecutrix was a sexual conversation” (“the prosecutrix” being the survivor) on November 7, 2013. (Page 242, Paragraph 146)It seems inexplicable that Tejpal would use the words “sexual encounter” to describe a mere “sexual conversation.


These nonchalant descriptions are in any case at odds with the contents of Tejpal’s apology emails. Because if his claims made to Chaudhury are indeed true, then the entire episode begs the questions:

(a) What was Tejpal apologising for in his emails?

(b) What attempted “sexual liaison…despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me” was Tejpal referring to in his apology email to the survivor?

(c) Was Tejpal apologising in his emails for “banter” (which is how his defence in court characterised his interaction with the survivor, while contesting her claim of an assault), or was he apologising for the non-consensual acts he himself described in his emails to the survivor?


The judgement not only accepts the defence’s claim that these apologies were given by Tejpal under pressure, but also cites the absence of the use of the words “sexual assault” in them by Tejpal to question the survivor’s claim. (Pages 300-310, Paragraphs 190-193)


3) The judgement dismisses the survivor’s mother, close friends and colleagues as non-credible witnesses due to their proximity to her, but the accused’s sister, business partners, close friend and employees are readily believed despite their ties to the accused and the clout he wields over some of them.


4) The judgement defies universal principles of fairness and natural justice and India’s statute books in its response to the survivor’s call records and messages seeking early legal advice and support from women lawyers and activists. The judge has deemed all such communication as evidence of “doctoring”[20] (Page 54, Paragraph 23: “With the help of experts there may be possibility of doctoring of events or adding of incidents”), thus undermining her right to access justice. The judgement even insinuates that her knowledge of the law and prior contact with feminist lawyers is part of a grand conspiracy. This theme runs through the judgement, which implies that the complainant is to be viewed with suspicion simply because she is knowledgeable about the law and exercised her fundamental right to consult lawyers before making a formal statement in a criminal case that, it is important to note, she did not choose to file in the first place.


5) Having allowed the defence to use material from the survivor’s mobile phone thatis unconnected to the allegation of assault, the judgement then reproduces her messages to close friends on her mobile phone to portray  her as having “flirtatious and sexual conversations”and makes retrospective, forced connections between these unrelated conversations and the assault in question.


6) The judgement records that during the cross-examination, the survivor did not wish to share contents of her email account in court for multiple reasons including privacy concerns and professional considerations. Regarding the latter, the judge writes that the survivor pointed out “she has worked as a  journalist for the last seven years and her account is full of sensitive details which could compromise the lives and identities of her sources and she will not give up that information to anyone including the court”. (Pages 286-288, Paragraph 182)Immediately after the above sentence, the judgement concludes that the survivor’s unwillingness to show “the email” to the Court shows that she “wants to hide something” and thus “cannot be called reliable and trustworthy” – the judge does not specify which among the many objections raised by the survivor prompted this conclusion.(Pages 288-289, Paragraph 183)


Firstly, this section is an illustrative example of the incoherence of the judgement since it mixes observations about a particular email/s with the survivor’s apprehensions about her email account as a whole. Second, the choice of words and the sequencing of observations imply that the survivor’s desire to protect her sources is viewed as proof of her untrustworthiness. If this is the case, then the judgement has shown a complete lack of understanding of journalism, the importance of sources in journalism and the responsibility of journalists to guard the confidentiality of their sources.


For media professionals reading this judgement, the survivor’s stance with regard to her sources is particularly worth noting because it is both commendable and admirable that she refused to compromise her sources at great cost to herself and at the risk of jeopardising the value placed on her testimony during the trial.


Failure of employers


At this point, it is important to remember that it was not the survivor who initiated the criminal prosecution, it was the Government of Goa that did so, and she has fully cooperated with the police investigation for almost eight years[21]. It was a watershed moment for the Indian women’s rights movement – several years before the global #MeToo movement – when this young woman courageously spoke truth to power within her own organisationby reporting asexual assault by the senior most individual in the newsroom she worked in. She further risked her position within the organisation by pointing out that no committee existed in Tehelka to combat sexual harassment as per the Supreme Court’s Vishaka Guidelines Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace. She went on record and requested an internal probe by the management.


Despite the fact that Tehelka positioned itself at the time as a voice of the marginalised and a feminist publication, it failed to live up to the standards to which it held others. The Vishaka Guidelines laidout by the apex court in 1997 required the organisation to have an internal complaints committee in place 

at all times to be ready to conduct an inquiry as and when any complaint of sexual harassment arose. Tehelka was in violation of the existing guidelines of the Supreme Court by having no such committee in place and announcing the formation of one after the fact.


With an internal probe still pending, when news of the complaint broke in the media, Chaudhury in her capacity as Tehelka’s managing editor claimed on media platforms that the survivor and Tehelka staff were “satisfied”with whatever had been done till then, shockingly described the incident as an “internal matter”[22] and asked the media not to interfere.


Despite being a junior journalist at the time, the survivor stuck her neck out again by publicly calling out Chaudhury for what she described as falsehoods. According to an NDTV report that is cited by Outlook magazine, the survivor said she was “deeply disappointed” by Tehelka’s response and was further quoted as saying: “To claim that other journalists in Tehelka are satisfied is also false since my testimony has not been publicly circulated within Tehelka, only Tarun’s letter of ‘atonement’ has.” 


The survivor reiterated her demand for an internal inquiry as per the Vishakha Guidelines but it did not take off once the criminal investigation by the Goa Police began.It is tragic that while the survivor was betrayed by her organisation in her quest for due process within the workplace, it is she who was dragged through the mud by the defence during the trial. To make matters worse, the judgement has proceeded to publicise aspects of this vilification that should not have been permitted during the trial in the first place.


It must be noted, however that the survivor’s actions have sparked intense discussions in newsrooms that have gone a long way towards ensuring a better understanding of gender-based violations in media organisations and in the public discourse. She has also given courage to other women to jettison shame and speak out about workplace harassment and violence in newsrooms.


The way ahead


NWMI has consistently campaigned against sexual harassment at the workplace and worked towards strengthening institutional redressal mechanisms while ensuring that they are sensitive to women survivors. As a network of women media professionals, we are particularly engaged with the challenge of ensuring systemic change in media organisations. The absence of institutional mechanisms in Tehelka– adecade and a half after the Supreme Court made internal complaints committees mandatory for workplaces – is itself a stark reminder of the short shrift given to the right of women journalists to work with dignity and security.


Workplace cultures in newsrooms must examine toxic masculinity and male entitlement. The first step towards thisis to respect the need for preventive and redressal systems, which are today mandated under The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.


This analysis has been undertaken to clarify the judgement in the Tejpal case and examine its implications for the survivor as well as for other women, and to encourage further discussions in the media, in civil society and among citizens at large about a judicial process that has undermined a survivor’s right to a fair trial as well as her right to dignity and privacy.


The Goa government has already appealed against Tejpal’s acquittal and as of June 2, 2021, the Bombay High Court at Goa has accepted that there is a “prima facie case” for appeal.  A critique of the trial court’s judgement is inevitable during further proceedings.


It is necessary, nevertheless, to continue the discussion in the public realm too, to emphasise that large passages in the judgement are both illegal and unethical, and to outline a way forward involving the adoption of global practices such as an end to digital strip searches of sexual assault survivors, gender sensitisation of investigating officials and judges, and awareness building about gender and law among the media and general public.


Without such processes, the language and errors in the trial court’s judgement in the Tarun Tejpal case will have a chilling effect on women and may deter survivors from accessing legal services and courts in future.




November 7, 8, 9, 2013: A 27-year-old woman journalist informs her mother, her close friends and colleagues that her employer,who was a person known to her and her family since her childhood, Tarun Tejpal, founder and editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, has sexually assaulted and raped her on November 7 and 8, 2013 at an event organised by Tehelka.


November 18, 2013:The survivor makes a complaint against the accused in an email to Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury detailing how Tejpal sexually assaulted and raped her and requesting an office inquiry.


November 19, 2013: Tejpal sends two email apologies to the survivor in which he admits to non-consensual conduct. 


November 22, 2013:The Goa Police’s CID Crime Branch registers a complaint against Tejpal based on news reports about the survivor’s internal complaint. The survivor cooperates with the police investigation. The internal probe to be set up by Tehelka under the Vishakha Guidelines is suspended at this point. Till date no internal probe has been held.


November 30, 2013: Goa Police arrests Tejpal.


February 17, 2014: Goa Police submits charge-sheet.


July 1, 2014: Supreme Court grants bail to Tejpal.


October 12, 2015: Supreme Court directs Goa Sessions Court to obtain a cloned copy of the survivor’s mobile.


June 2016: Tejpal asks for and obtains permission for an in-camera trial.


September 7, 2017: Four years after the survivor’s first complaint, the trial against Tejpal begins on the orders of the Additional Session Judge, Mapusa, Goa.


August 19, 2019: The High Court of Bombay at Goa and the Supreme Court refuse to quash the case against Tejpal saying charges are of a very serious nature, and directs the trial court to conclude the trial within six months.


October 31, 2019:The Additional Session Judge upholds the survivor’s objections to being subjected to relentless cross examination over more than 30 days on her mobile communication with third parties irrelevant to the case and on being subjected to cross-examination with questions intended to shame, traumatise and exhaust her.


December 2019:The cross-examination continues in this fashion nevertheless, causing the survivor to break down several times. She approaches the Bombay High Court against such cross-examination.


December 2019: Bombay High Court directs the Additional Sessions Judge to protect the survivor from “irrelevant and extraneous questioning”.


September 4 , 2020:The court at Mapusa, Goa, issues a bailable warrant against the survivor, authorising the investigating officer from the Goa Police to execute the warrant. The court issues the warrant after hearing and rejecting two applications by the survivor asking the court to exempt her from being physically present in court as her health did not permit her to travel during the pandemic.


May 25, 2021:The Additional Sessions Judge acquits Tejpal.


May 27, 2021:The Goa Government approaches the Bombay High Court, which orders the trial court to redact personal details of the survivor that have been revealed in the judgement.


June 2, 2021: The Bombay High Court at Goa accepts that there is a “prima facie case” for appeal. A critique of the trial court’s judgement is inevitable during further proceedings.



[1]‘Tejpal case: Goa court cites chats, photos, puts question marks on woman’


[8]‘Court Orders Tehelka Former Editor Tarun Tejpal's In-Camera Trial For Sexual Assault’


[9]Petition number 4156 of 2019 in the High Court of Bombay at Goa


[12]Section 228A in Indian Penal Code on Disclosure of identity of the victim of certain offences


[13]Supreme Court Guidelines on Disclosing Identity of Rape Victims


[16]CRLMP 15012/2015 in petition for Special Leave in Supreme Court of India to Appeal no. 66/2015(Arising out of impugned final judgement and order dated 23/12/2014 in SC No. 10/2014 passed by Additional Sessions judge, Mapusa