.This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today. Before the arrest...
Uneasy lies the head….
There was no escaping the word ‘uneasy’ this week. Too many awful things were taking place at around the same time. The required mental space to absorb these rapid and sordid developments , was missing. The unease was caused on two levels – professional and personal. While I don’t know the Talwars, I have followed the grisly five-year-old murder trial of Aarushi, their teenage daughter, in her own bed. What was a mystery back then, remains a mystery till today. Yes, even after the parents have been convicted of the crime ( life sentences for the double murders – Aarushi’s and that of their domestic help, Hemraj). Then there was the equally disturbing Tarun Tejpal case, with all its bizarre twists and turns. No grisly murder here, except for the murder of several reputations. Trouble is, I know Tejpal. Not all that well. But certainly as a social friend, who has been to our home ( I have not been to his). We also have several friends in common, which was certainly not the case with the Talwars. The difficult questions people in media were asking themselves last week were these : If you know someone enough to invite them home, share a couple of meals with them and interact in an amiable way when paths crossed, how difficult is it to comment publicly on what has undoubtedly become one of the most high profile sexual harassment cases in recent times? The frank answer is ‘Very!” It is indeed very difficult to put your opinion on the line and say it like it is. But then again, is it fair to stay out of the dialogue because of this reason? To me, the answer is obvious: “No”. You don’t step out of something that is far bigger than the individual involved. You don’t stay silent when the issue is this important. Once the young journalist’s letter was leaked, everything became fair game. Discourses on the mess raged across television channels and countless social media platforms. The mess got messier. Especially after the far-from-dexterous handling of the crisis by a gang one can dismissively call ‘Friends of Tarun’. The dated idea of ‘dog doesn’t eat dog’, combined with the even sillier institution of the Old Boys’ Club showing public solidarity for one of their own, exacerbated the issue still further, making all those chaps bleating away on panel discussions , look rather foolish. The case being what it is, cannot be convincingly defended, even by Tejpal’s most loyal drinking buddies. They tried! But all they got for their show of loyalty was derision and sneering (“ Birds of a feather…”). Especially after Tejpal did an about turn and slandered the victim.
The Talwars had it tougher. The only people to put up a pretty spirited and valiant defense on their behalf were family members and their lawyer. The Talwars were pretty isolated by the time the verdict came in. And regardless of whether there is a section of society that still believes in their innocence, for all practical purposes, it’s now a dead story. Even though we still don’t know for sure who did it and why (murder weapon missing, motive not established). Both these Delhi-based stories packed a powerful emotional punch. Which is also why nobody could remain neutral or uninvolved in the debates that followed. In both cases, the targets were young, vulnerable girls. One is dead. The other is courageously fighting on. Something is terribly wrong. And drawing conclusions becomes that much harder when you know the accused. In this instance, Tejpal. It also makes one wonder whether one can really ‘know’ someone. To all those fellows standing by Tarun, and willingly sticking their necks out for him, my sympathies. They sound just as loutish as Tarun. But that’s entirely their prerogative. But for all those men and women who have stood by the victim from the word go – now, that takes guts. Loyalty is definitely a cherished virtue in these fickle times. But surely truth and fair play stand for much more?
I can hear the laughter of the men defending Tejpal as they as they order another round of beer at their favourite club. I can hear them say, “What’s the big deal? It was just another elevator encounter….like so many other similar encounters. Poor Tarun!”
Poor Tarun, is right. But NOT in the way his cronies mean it. And poor Talwars, too.
Moral bankruptcy is a great leveler…. and spares nobody. As no doubt Tejpal and the Talwars have discovered.