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The unhappy young girl in the tiny Goan cafe comes to life when she hears someone say, “he has arrived”. Cara, who is 23, rushes out into the street. At a distance, a lanky man flanked by two cops is walking in her direction. The police van that has brought him to Panjim from the Sada sub-jail in Vasco is too large for the narrow lane and has to be parked about 200 metres away. He takes a moment to recognise her and when he does his face is lit by a smile. She quickens her pace and they walk with brisk strides towards each other until the man reaches the dark entrance of a building that houses a fast-track court, and he knows he cannot walk any further down the street. The rape accused waits for his daughter to reach him. They hug, he tells her he loves her, kisses her wrist, holds her hand, and they walk towards an elevator in a small swarm of family relations, and two cops. She is carrying with her, in a discreet way probably, a steel box that has some food. There are just a handful of photographers today. The story of Tarun Tejpal and the rape he is alleged to have committed in an elevator has lost much of its impassioned attention. In the anteroom of the court, Tejpal sits with Cara, other family members and lawyers. His wife, Geetan, sister Neena and older daughter Tiya, who had gifted him the novel Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut days after he was jailed, are in Delhi preparing to approach the Supreme Court for his bail plea, their only recourse now. Tejpal tells his family what he has probably said many times after his arrest. He has the appearance of a man who is now talking to himself:
It was consensual, that was what it was. I had apologised to her out of honour, out of respect for someone who worked for me and who wanted me to apologise for what I thought was consensual. I have never admitted to rape, why are they saying I have admitted?
She may not have intended to but what she has done is that she has delivered me to the right wing. That’s what she has done.
From the moment the whole thing began, one thing I have asked for was “give me the CCTV footage, give me the CCTV footage”. Why was the prosecution so reluctant to part with the footage? Anyone who sees the footage will know the truth. That was one thing I was terrified about—what if they destroyed the footage. I was terrified about that.
Cara asks her father to “relax, just relax”. He retorts, “What now, I am not supposed to talk even, is that it?”
She says, “Yell at me if you want but relax. That’s what I am going to say.”
Moments later, he tells her, holding her hand, “Sorry.”
For most of his adult life, Tejpal was celebrated as a journalist and a writer by a network of Delhi’s influential cultural elite who transmitted that sentiment to the vast public. What he was at his core was a gifted entrepreneur in search of one goldmine enterprise that always seemed just within his grasp. Then, in mid-November, a Young Woman, a journalist with much promise, claimed that he had confined her in an elevator and penetrated her with his finger and hence, by law, raped her. And that, the next day, in another elevator, he had behaved in a manner that she construed as sexual assault. The accusation and his arrest on November 30 have destroyed Tejpal.
Tarun kept the lift in circuit by pressing buttons, says the Young Woman. But only the close button can do so.
The extraordinary media attention that followed the rape accusation has cast him as a rapist in public perception. He still has a stake in the company that holds the Tehelka magazine but neither he nor his family has any operational role in it anymore. His family has been evicted from their rented home in Delhi where they had lived for eight years because the owner grew nervous of news media reports that referred to the house as his “ancestral home”. Geetan Tejpal, who faces the indignity of having to reach out to whoever would listen to her that her husband had indulged in a consensual relationship with the Young Woman and not raped her, has shifted to a home in Gurgaon. He has spent four months in a perpetually-lit basement cell that contains a corner toilet which he shares with half-a-dozen other inmates, some of whom, the prosecution has said, not in jest, he has helped plan an escape.
The Young Woman, whom I met in her new home in the outskirts of Delhi, is in a delicate mental state. She is consumed by the intense fear that the noise of the nameless public might turn against her, and of the inevitability that what will soon be on trial would be her way of life, her “character”, as it is known. Details of her past are already in the air. The Young Woman told me that her father, who has a medical condition, knows that Tarun Tejpal has raped a young woman, but he does not know that the young woman is his daughter.
Tejpal is in the fast-track court in Panjim to impress upon it that contrary to the claims of the prosecution, his agents are not the ones who are defaming the Young Woman. And, he wants pens and scribbling pads.
Also, he wants 48 hours of footage of the closed-circuit television (CCTV) recordings that would reveal what exactly happened in the elevator landings of Block Seven of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Goa on November 7 and 8..
Tejpal mutters to someone, or probably everyone in the room:
The video will exonerate me. What kind of a rapist will ask for video footage?
“A man who knows there is nothing in the footage outside the lift,” says a person from the prosecution side, who does not want to be named. “Did you know that in the beginning he demanded the footage of the CCTV inside the elevators? Why? Because he knew there was no such footage.”
Yet, the few minutes of the footage of the elevator landings that have been given to him, according to several people with direct knowledge of the material, have somewhat complicated a story that was already complex.
The two incidents that have landed Tejpal in jail occurred on the nights of November 7 and 8 last year during the annual ‘Think’ festival in Goa, the jewel event of the Tehelka magazine, which is partially owned by Tejpal. The festival was set in the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The event’s cynosure was the actor Robert De Niro, and the Young Woman was his assigned handler. The hotel is chiefly a cluster of two-storeyed blocks with sloping red roofs. De Niro stayed in a second-floor suite in one such block—Block 7. The ground floor of this block was also the heart of the festival. Block 7 has two facing elevators. The landing area just outside the elevators on the ground floor and the second floor is covered by CCTV cameras. At the time of the festival, the first floor camera did not work. There are no cameras inside any of the elevators in the hotel.
In mid-November, the Young Woman wrote a complaint to Shoma Chaudhury, then the managing editor of Tehelka magazine. In the complaint, which became a part of the first information report, the Young Woman said that on November 7, “as we (Tejpal and her) made our way out of the elevator of Block 7 at the Grand Hyatt, Mr Tejpal held my arm and pulled me back into the lift. He said—‘Let’s go wake up Bob’ (Mr De Niro) and I asked him why he wanted to do that....”
According to the CCTV footage, at around 11:20 pm (the clock on the footage has a time lag of 50 minutes), Tejpal and the Young Woman are seen walking towards an elevator on the second floor. Tejpal’s hand is on the shoulder of the Young Woman. She is not holding any part of Tejpal. They take the lift to the ground floor. It takes about 14 seconds for the lift to travel from the second floor to the ground floor if it does not stop on the first floor. Tejpal and the Young Woman emerge at the ground floor about 14 seconds after taking the lift from the second floor. They disappear from the footage. After about five minutes, they return to the ground floor elevator landing area. In these five minutes, according to Tejpal, they had a sexually potent conversation, and that when they returned to take the elevator he presumed there was a consensus between them on what they were about to do. Nothing about the Young Woman’s body language indicates this. What is apparent is that Tejpal is leading her by her hand and they head unmistakably towards the elevator. They are not walking hand in hand, rather Tejpal is leading her and she is following him. They take the elevator that is to the left of the camera, whose entrance is not covered by the camera. It is a small patch of floor that is a blind spot.
Her complaint further states:
“I then realised that Mr Tejpal was simply pressing buttons on the lift’s panel to make the elevator stay in circuit, preventing it from stopping anywhere, and for the doors to open. At this point, he began to kiss me—from the first moment of his doing so, I asked him to stop, citing several reasons.... It was like talking to a deaf person. Mr Tejpal lifted my dress up, went down on his knees and pulled my underwear down. He attempted to perform oral sex on me as I continued to struggle and hysterically asked him to stop. At that moment he began to try and penetrate me with his fingers, I became scared and pushed him hard and asked him to stop the lift. He would not listen.”
This is the heart of the complaint, the moments when the alleged rape occurred. As there is no camera inside the lift, there is naturally no footage of these moments. The plain facts, assuming the technical details of the elevator have not changed since November last year, are that when any number is pressed—‘0, 1 or 2’—the lift door would open upon reaching the destination even if another key has been immediately or simultaneously pressed. So the lift cannot be kept “in circuit” purely by pressing these numbers but can be if the ‘close’ button is kept pressed. If the Young Woman’s version is true, Mr Tejpal, who was wearing a black hat, kept a finger on the close button, and with his other hand managed the disrobing, the oral sex and the rape. Or, he took occasional gambles with the lift doors when he was forcing himself on the protesting Young Woman.
They emerge from the lift about a 100 seconds after they entered it.
She further stated:
“The lift stopped on the ground floor as Mr Tejpal’s hands were on me and could not press the button for yet another floor to keep it in circuit. As soon as the doors opened, I picked up my underwear and began walking out of the elevator rapidly—he was still following me, asking me what the matter was.”
In actuality, they do not get off on the ground floor. They emerge on the second floor. They walk towards the staircase at a leisurely pace—she arranging her dress and Tejpal following. She is holding nothing in her hands.
Days after her first written complaint, in a testimony given to a magistrate after she saw the video footage, she changed “I picked up my underwear and began walking out of the elevator rapidly...” to “I pulled my panties and walked hurriedly out of the lift blinking back tears.”
A person who is highly relevant to the case but who did not wish to be quoted says that the Young Woman “remembered the traumatic night differently when she sent her first complaint. When she saw the CCTV footage she saw that night with greater clarity”. Moments after the lift doors open, Tejpal and the Young Woman are in the camera’s blind spot. Here, according to the person, “the Young Woman’s panties were at her ankles before she pulls them up. She is still somehow discreetly pulling them up as she walks. That is why she is walking at that pace though in her mind she thinks she is fleeing.”
According to the footage, when they emerge from the second floor lift, they walk towards the stairs. There are no cameras over the stairs. They emerge on the ground floor in 40 seconds, which indicates a normal pace of walking down the stairs. In fact, they amble out of Block 7, and as they do, the Young Woman bunches up her hair and ties it in a ponytail. They disappear from the footage.
A counsel from the prosecution team says, “Much is usually made out of simple inconsistencies in the statements of a rape victim. This is classic in rape cases. Yes, she said they got off on the ground floor when they had got off on the second floor. What does she gain from saying ‘ground floor’ instead of ‘second floor’? This, in fact, supports the view that any person’s recounting of events will have some inaccuracies which need not be deemed as lies.”
As they amble out of Block 7, the Young Woman bunches up her hair and ties it in a ponytail.
Also, the person implied, the act of a woman bunching up her hair and tying it might be a visual icon that the society associates with calm and normality, but the act need not essentially mean that. “It is not uncommon for victims of sexual violence to retain total composure after the act. As a society, it appears that we are moved only by violence. We want a girl’s intestines to come out for us to accept that she has been raped. In the recent Bombay gangrape case, the photojournalist who was brutally attacked walked back to the road and bought a bottle of mineral water and discussed with her male friend which train they must take.”
In the footage, Tejpal is seen wiping his mouth. “He is wiping his mouth because of what he has just done,” says the counsel from the prosecution side.
“Bearded men do appear to wipe their mouths frequently,” says a family member of Tejpal, “but they are just petting their facial hair.”
Tejpal and the Young Woman depart at Block 7 and part ways. The woman meets several people on the lawn of the hotel, including at least two close friends. She maintains her composure. But, about 90 minutes later, when she reaches International Centre Goa, where she stays, she would completely lose it.
When she reaches the hotel, she does not go to her room, which she shares with her colleague Sunaina Kumar; she would instead walk into the room shared by three colleagues—Shougat Dasgupta, Ishan Tankha and G. Vishnu. Dasgupta and Tankha would later tell me that the moment they saw the Young Woman they knew something was wrong.
She tells them that Tejpal molested her in the elevator. They have a sombre chat well into the night. A few minutes after one, when she is still in their room, she gets a text message from Tejpal. The message says, “The fingertips.” She shares this message with the two friends. Both Shougat and Tankha would tell me later, she appears to be disgusted and upset.
His message—“the fingertips”—would turn out to be the most destructive message an Indian public figure has sent in recent times. Not only did it contribute to public outrage, it also served to strengthen the Young Woman’s claim, which was, at first, that he had tried to penetrate her with his finger, and later that he did penetrate—an act that qualifies as rape according to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013. The message was either sent by a foolish rapist who, after his crime, was implicating himself through an SMS to a competent journalist whose area of special interest was the interaction between society, law and rape. Or, it was sent by a drunken man who thought he was flirting.
According to Tejpal, he had used “the fingertips” in the context of a sexually laced conversation he and the Young Woman had in those five minutes when they were chatting on the night of November 7, moments before they would take the lift ride that would destroy him.
Late evening, on November 8, according to the Young Woman’s complaint, “...as I was walking into the Grand Club at Block 7, Mr Tejpal was coming out of the lounge. He pointed at me asking me to stop. I was already worried that I was late and that Mr De Niro had asked for me. Mr Tejpal came to me and said, ‘Come up with me, we have to get something from Bob’s room.’ I was frightened that this would lead to a repeat of the previous night and so I said, ‘What does he need? I’ll go get it.’ I was scared of getting into the lift with him again, and more terrified that he was going to try and take me into a room this time. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift (which is barely a few steps away from the lobby of Block 7 where he had asked me to wait).”
According to the footage, at about nine in the evening, the Young Woman appears on the ground floor lift landing but proceeds in the direction of the festival lounge and disappears. In a few seconds, she appears again in the lift lobby confirming exactly what she has mentioned in the complaint—that Tejpal spotted her as soon as she arrived and asked her to take the lift with him to go to De Niro’s room. But he is not holding her by her wrist. He is standing with her waiting for the elevator that is to the left of the camera. Photographer Rohit Chawla appears and Tejpal has a conversation with him. She stands waiting for the conversation to finish. Then the doors of the lift to the right of the camera open and Tejpal, still finishing the conversation with the photographer, enters the lift. She follows him inside.
“The fingertips.” The message was sent either by a foolish rapist or a drunken man who thought he was flirting.
A person who is central to the case and is aware of the Young Woman’s interpretation says, requesting anonymity so that she is not at any disadvantage when the trial begins, that the Young Woman had no recollection at all of what had transpired when she was waiting with Tejpal for the lift until she saw the CCTV footage. The person says that the Young Woman was already under enormous work pressure. And, she was assaulted the previous day by her boss. And, as she was waiting for the lift, she just wanted to be done with the task and be far away from Tejpal. As a result, “she did not register many things”.
Yet, she remembers being held by the wrist and taken into the lift when nothing of that sort happened?
The counsel from the prosecution team says, “She believed she was pulled into the lift on November 7, and she thought it had happened on November 8 too. She got confused about the details. It happens.”
Her complaint further states:
“When the doors closed, he started to try and kiss me again. I said, ‘Tarun, please, no, just stop,’ he pulled away, smiled, patted my cheek and said ‘Why? Ok. I’ll stop.’ I said again, ‘This just isn’t right. Tiya is my best friend. I had lunch with Geetan today.’ He smiled again and just for a moment I thought I had appealed to his better sense. I turned away from him, desperately waiting for the door to open.... Within seconds of my turning around, he started to lift up my dress. He lifted it all the way up and said, ‘You’re unbelievable.’ The door opened on the second floor, on Mr De Niro’s floor—and he said again—‘The universe is telling us something’—to which I said, ‘I’m taking the stairs’, and started to walk out. He pulled me back in....”
According to the footage, when the lift door opens, the Young Woman walks out looking clearly unhappy about something. Tejpal follows. But then he goes back into the lift. She jogs back inside. The doors shut.
Her complaint further states:
“...sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria—by this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic, he did not touch me until the lift reached the ground floor. Right as the doors were about to open, he patted my behind once more.”
According to the footage, the lift reaches the ground floor in about 14 seconds. When the lift door opens, Tejpal is standing at the extreme right of the lift and the Young Woman on the extreme left. To be precise, they are separated by the whole width of the lift, which is about five feet. There is an unhappy tension between them as they walk out.
Soon after this, the Young Woman tells Tejpal’s older daughter Tiya that her father had molested her, inadvertently setting in motion a chain of events that would lead Tejpal to a basement in Vasco.
The counsel on the prosecution side says, “So, according to Tejpal, they had a consensual making-out and the girl immediately became a bitch, went to his daughter and accused him of her molesting her?”
It is possible that the inconsistencies between the Young Woman’s statements and the hard truth of the video footage are consequences of lapses in memory. When I tried to recount my recent actions for which there were video recordings and when I checked the actual footage, there were surprising inconsistencies between the facts and how I remembered the facts. Also, there is not a moment in the CCTV footage that shows the Young Woman exhibiting anything resembling physical affection for Tejpal. But then her memory of Tejpal pulling her into the elevator on three occasions, when he clearly did no such thing, have in no small measure contributed to serious charges against him.
The fast-track court has refused to intervene in Tejpal’s request for pens and scribbling pads. The court leaves it to the discretion of the Sada sub-jail, which eventually grants him his request. These are the triumphs in Tejpal’s life these days as he faces at least 10 years in prison if found guilty.
L’affaire Tarun J. Tejpal
The sequence of events from the day the Young Woman first brought the issue to the notice
By Manu Joseph in Panjim and New Delhi.
Correction: March 29, 2014. 2:35 PM:The first illustration in the print version of this story had an inaccuracy as it erroneously depicted as if the Young Woman is holding Tarun Tejpal's hand. In the CCTV footage, as the text of the story notes, Tejpal is leading her by her hand, which has been corrected online
Edited online on March 31, 2:16 PM to fix the following:
The line "He has spent four months in a perpetually-lit basement cell..." appeared in print as "He has four months in a perpetually-lit basement cell..."
The line "It takes about 14 seconds for the lift to travel from the second floor to the ground floor" appeared in print as "It takes about 14 seconds for the lift to travel from the second floor to the ground floor"
The line "They head towards the lawns" before the line "They disappear from the footage" was deleted from the web version
The "Also, there is not a moment in the CCTV footage that shows the Young Woman exhibiting anything resembling physical affection for Tejpal" appears in print as "Also, there is not a moment in the footage that shows the Young Woman exhibiting anything resembling physical affection for Tejpal"
In the sequence of events, there was an error. "Goa police issue flight alert on Tejpal. The Young Woman records her statement before a magistrate in Mumbai" was published as "Goa police issue flight alert on Tejpal. The Young Woman records her statement before a magistrate in Panjim" in print.
Edited online on April 5, 2014, 1:42 PM to change the following:
The sentence "The Young Woman, whom I met in her new home in the outskirts of Delhi, is in a delicate mental state." earlier read as "The Young Woman is in a delicate mental state"
The sentence "The Young Woman told me that her father, who has a medical condition, knows that Tarun Tejpal has raped a young woman, but he does not know that the young woman is his daughter" earlier read as "According to a person who is close to the Young Woman’s father, the man, who has a medical condition, knows that Tarun Tejpal has raped a young woman, but he does not know that the young woman is his daughter"