Damn Tarun Tejpal for mixing up foul play with foreplay. Did he really believe the young journalist’s protests were really a come-on, when all she was saying was to F-off? Now, with that wilful and ludicrous act of sexual violation, he has pushed even harmless workplace bonds and affiliations into the glare of legal scrutiny, and criminal tangles and processes. Cubicle cruising and boardroom fancy is no longer about fantasy and romance, or excitement and fervour; it’s now about legal suits, a merciless justice system, and stringent punishments.
It must have been shocking to Tejpal’s devotees that, for a New age peddler of thought merchandise, their long-haired You Guru lived in an apostolic age, as a kind of Jesus of Nazareth, where he thought public shaming, “atonement and laceration” was enough punishment. That’s so last century. Today, the law is ironclad: sex offenders are locked up even before trial, undergo lab tests, are scrutinised by forensic science, and have charged slapped suo motu on them. A guilty plea means a maximum sentence of life.
In fact, so draconian is the law that Tejpal’s terrorised lawyers, overwhelmed by the authority, even marched the hapless culprit to a potency test when even the feisty young journalist had complained there were only fingers involved!
And, instead of allowing the complaint mechanism in the premises to whirr into action, it spun out of control when info began to leak out. What we now have is a gladiatorial media, a lascivious public thirsting for vengeance, police arbitrariness, and the worst of all, pathologising everyday workplace familiarity and intimacies. We are in the Age of Moral Panic, where rules of engagement are looked at with codes of criminal procedure, where affection can be penalised for harassment, and personal rapport is up for interrogation, where increasing moral outrage demands more laws and regulation.
Perhaps the first battle cry against invasion of privacy was with the India Slutwalks and the Pink Panty campaign against loutish police and vandalising Hindutva mobs, but was it really about exploring female sexuality and sexual equality? Sure, the Mahatma made his historic, revolutionary call with a loin cloth, but the Spandex Selfies, connected by Facebook, SMSes and Instagram, were only cyber-ventilating on the path of least resistance, an out-of-body experience, without the punch of real engagement with conservative goons.
The panty posse could not change the punishment, so lenient for rampaging mobs that can molest women in public places for being “morally loose”, nor penalise policemen who refuse to register criminal cases against sexual molesters; instead we have a hastily-drafted, shoddy, harsh, sentencing regime for rape offenders, legislated after last December’s gruesome rape and murder of a medical intern, which (as several legal luminaries have written) does not differentiate between various sexual crimes while giving punishment.
Of course, women are fed up for being blamed for male violence and the culture of refusal to hold men accountable, but mercifully, as Tejpal has discovered, the legal system now takes any accusation of sexual assault very seriously. But do we need a protectionist and guardianship law that may actually creep into our freedom? Does this reflect a growing conservative sexual morality? Can this protectionism from sexual abuse curb a woman’s freedom to experience safe and pleasurable sexuality with her co-workers?
The workplace can also turn into a feminist gulag if one had to go by the Vishaka guidelines mandated by the Supreme Court to curb sexual harassment—from anti-sexual harassment cells, use of communication material to build public awareness on sexual harassment, and gender sensitisation workshops for employees—something akin to sex talks in school rooms. Imagine having as a warning graphic pictures of hairy, clawing arms describing what a potential sexual assault looks like pasted in the canteen, above coffee machines etc; or showing women cowering, holding their screams in shadowy images in the Boss’s cabin.
This creeping new neurosis for “inappropriate behaviour” that comes with the new sexual harassment laws also assumes that women are incapable of negotiating their sexual relations. If there’s one fantastic revelation that came out of the Tehelka assault case, it is the poise and composure of the young journalist, who surely and squarely went about with her grievance, protest and representation to the proper authority and chain of command. There was no ambiguity or confusion about her relations in the hierarchy at the workplace, and she steered and mediated her appeals and claims on sure grounds. It was a shame that Tejpal reacted in a conservative, boorish manner, blaming her for all that happened.
It’s funny how the ladies’ man or the coffee flirt has metamorphosed into the section scumball and office creep. Perhaps it’s time for the ladies to make their claim from being the Easy Lay to become the Queen Cool.