Rape by Any Other Name

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Tarun Tejpal, the inquisitor par excellence is now himself being pilloried in the media for his "bad lapse of judgment". This "bad lapse of judgment", however, comes with its own palliative – his literary worth, his courageous journalism, his mastery of the art form of essay, his Midas touch are narrated in the same breath. That makes me feel so inadequate because I must confess; I have not read anything by Tejpal - essays, fiction, whatever.

As a matter of fact, I do not read any fiction at all. In a world saturated by 24/7 TV and the ubiquitous print media; we live our lives as serialized fiction. Or the fictitious world is passed on to us as our very own lived lives.

Tehelka, we have been told, has been unsparing in its efforts to expose to the glare of public scrutiny the conduct of the high and mighty without fear or favour. It did not pull any stops; it even took enormous risks in the pursuit of its objectives. Its stories called a spade not just a spade but a bloody shovel.

But, uncharacteristically, Tarun Tejpal’s epistolary address to his flock before his proposed self exile – self exile, we have all begun to suspect, is a commonplace arty gesture, a regular indulgence -is an exercise in minimalism. When it comes to describing his own escapades, the writer whose fiction has been described as "bold", "sexy", "sultry", "sizzling" evokes the literary conventions and cultural mores of the days gone by, he reduces the horrible incident to the requirements of staid domesticity.

The highly shattering and traumatic incident of rape has been routinized, reduced to an embarrassing faux pas rather like getting into a heated argument with the host at a party or some other breach of decorum in a domestic setting. Euphemism characterizes the idiom of the powerful; understatements naturalize the cruelties of power by dissociating the memory of cruelties from the act itself. Language, among other things, is about naming objects, about evoking states of being but understatement subverts the natural association of the word with the mental picture.

There are other reasons why I find the opening line of Mr. Tejpal so fascinating and worthy of extended analysis. The obscurity of the message is intended to go over the heads of people outside the Tehelka cult, should it by chance ever leak because it could be decoded only if you had the key.

The key was that a rape had taken place, that the rapist was none other than the pater familas and that the secret must not get out at any cost. Nor is Tejpal’s mail to his staffers in the nature of apology; it is not act of contrition; nor for that matter, are these words of repentance. It is sheer power discourse. The imprecision and obliquity of the text create a sense of moral ambiguity in order to inscribe in the minds of trusting and supplicating followers the version of truth that the powerful leader wants them to believe in.

What qualifies to be called rape in the Indian Penal Code should be taken merely as a "mild sexual banter". "Bad lapses of judgment, itself comes loaded with a whole baggage of memory, promises of reward and implied threat. The counter factual has not been stated - what are the dividends of a shrewd reading of the situation, of a proper exercise of judgment. What a pity that the unspoken but clearly understood mantra of success, "This is the easiest way to keep your job" had to be made explicit to the unfortunate girl. Tejpal then goes on to remind them of what Tehelka is what the membership of this group means, and how he built this institution with his blood etc. Will they not excuse him this small little "drunken sexual banter?"

He was even willing to recuse himself for six months and, impressed by her ability at damage control, hand over the leadership of cult Tehelka in "more capable hands "of his deputy Shoma Chaudhary. His trust in Shoma was not misplaced. She had not imbibed the Tehelka culture of double standards and hypocrisy in vain. When it came to fighting the biggest battle in the life of Tehelka, she betrayed her young, inexperienced but brave colleague to the demands of expediency. She tried to hush up the scandal as being an internal matter - a stance that is reminiscent of a James Thurber fable, wherein a fox charged of eating up a rabbit says, "He is eaten and digested, so it is an internal matter.

"Tehelka’s - soi disant moral authority is rooted in the fact while holding a mirror to the other three estates; it can pass the strictest public scrutiny in terms of its own impartiality, even-handedness and fair play. It failed this test miserably.

As the Tehelka story is unraveled layer by layer - it’s funding and ownership is already a subject of some curiosity - we must be prepared to be disappointed. This was one more false prophet; we have once again been fooled into mistaking a garden variety cabbage for a rose!


India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Patiliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.

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