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The TOI inviting Tarun Tejpal, currently facing charges of sexual assault, to participate in a panel on the ‘Tyranny Of Power’ reveals our callous attitude to violence against women.
Do you know what came to my mind when I read that the Times of India had invited Tarun Tejpal for their Litfest to talk on a panel titled ‘The Tyranny of Power’? Irony, mostly. Well, for any of you who are scratching their heads, last year Tejpal, the founder of Tehelka magazine was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting one of its female reporters. He is currently out on bail and is awaiting trial.
TOI faced severe social media backlash and criticism for inviting Tejpal. So much so that other speakers were even asked to boycott the event all together. Taking note of public anger and resentment, TOI has withdrawn its invite to Tejpal as they don’t want ‘extraneous issues‘ causing disturbances and distractions at the main event.
When news of the alleged assault broke out, it was met with initial disbelief to downright disgust with the way Tejpal and some of his associates handled the aftermath. Tejpal had apparently written a letter to his Managing Editor on how he should withdraw from being Editor-in-Chief for 6 months as a punishment for what he had done. In the world where I come from, such acts simply smack of arrogance and a sense of power that certain individuals feel they wield and can use to get away with anything. Fortunately our Constitution doesn’t say that ‘if you withdraw temporarily from your job, you’re off the hook’, and he was subsequently arrested.
But what can we take away from the entire TOI episode? It grants a certain acceptance to a person whose guilt has been reasonably if not entirely established. The fact that he gets an opportunity to speak at a public forum lends an uneasy normalcy in a situation that is still very fraught with tension and anger.
Unfortunately, there are other examples of popular figures who are in the center of controversies and somehow that doesn’t affect their public life. Take Bill Cosby for example; he recently performed at a show in Melbourne and got a standing ovation despite multiple allegations of sexual assault against him. People try to demarcate how they view such figures and try to separate their public from their personal lives.
A certain impunity is granted to people like Tejpal and Cosby where they know that despite whatever they’re accused of doing, they will still find some form of social acceptance. This is actually a reflection of our misogynist culture. Sexual assault has become so commonplace that nobody paused to reflect on their decision to invite someone to speak who is currently facing these charges. Maybe they were looking for some sort of guaranteed publicity. There is no way of actually understanding their motivations, but it is painful to see how nonchalant the organizers were about it. One of them went to the extent of calling the backlash as ‘noise’.
The issue of sexual assault by public figures will always catch the limelight and media attention. However what is required of the media is to present a balanced story as opposed to literally offering the pedestal to one party who in fact had confessed to the crime.
TOI’s reaction to the backlash is counter-productive and doesn’t bode well for them. Sure, you have claims of being the most widely circulated English daily in the country, but you are quite irresponsible with the power that you wield through these numbers. Isn’t this in fact the real ‘tyranny of power’?
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