This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
What happens when a mentor turns predator?
I have been a working woman most of my adult life. Today, I have four daughters in the work place. I have been very fortunate in that I managed to take my safety and security in the office entirely for granted and have come through without having to deal with a single unpleasant incident that could’ve scarred me for life. Can my daughters (and millions of working women across India), hope for the same? Going by several recent encounters of the unsavoury kind, the answer is obvious. Not because men have changed. But the times have. Women in an earlier zamana were conditioned by society’s lop- sided rules to shut up and put up if the boss was acting ‘forward’ ( that was the strongest term used for what was and remains, nothing short of sexual harassment). Even mothers would advise daughters to change – their way of dressing, behavior, thinking. The unspoken message was unambiguous: men will be men. The boss is your superior. He can get you fired. You will lose your job. What then?
Well, we now have the answer. And the answer is pretty simple : Speak up!This is exactly what Tarun Tejpal’s 18-year-old victim did. She plucked up the courage to nail her mentor/boss after she was ( allegedly) sexually assaulted by Tejpal (58), on two separate occasions at what has become an annual pilgrimage for the country’s intellectual elite – the THINK Fest in Goa. Let’s leave it to the Goa police to decide what happens next as per the law of the land. The incriminating CCTV footage is with them. And, of course, there is Tejpal’s own admission and apology. Without delving into lurid details, but going by what is already in the public domain, it is safe to conclude that the 18- year-old employee (whose best friend happens to be Tejpal’s daughter), was traumatized enough to provide a detailed account of what happened inside an elevator, with a man who was not just her boss/ mentor, but also her father’s friend. A man she looked up to, admired and most importantly, trusted. Here is the most disturbing part of the sordid saga. What were the victim’s options at that critical point when she had to get into the elevator with this figure of authority? Should she have refused to travel in the same elevator car, sensing the man’s intentions? Pressed the alarm bell? Complained to hotel security? Rushed to the police the next morning? Come on… how many inexperienced young girls would have the presence of mind to take any of those steps? She did what any frightened person would do – she spoke about her awful, emotionally shattering experience to her friends, and later to her family. That she must have been shell-shocked, is a given. That she must also have felt pretty powerless right after the attack, is understandable. It took the victim a few days to write an email to her Managing Editor, Shoma Chaudhary. What happened subsequently with Ms. Chaudhary , need not be gone into here. The bald truth is staring us in the face – a mentor preyed on the vulnerability of a young, female employee and abused his power. Period. It is not an uncommon story. Predictably enough, the trickle of support Tejpal received was primarily from other men - his cronies. That’s how most Boys’ Clubs operate around the world. Members immediately close ranks and stand by the accused man. No thought is spared for the woman who has been assaulted and humiliated.
Perhaps, this particular incident signals the beginning of the end of this form of female subjugation in the work place. The brave young victim chose to go public with what was a beastly attack on her, by a man she considered a father figure. There are thousands of women caught in similar situations. Forget committees and enquiries. Forget legalese and officialese. All those take time and test the patience of victims and their families. The first and most effective thing to do is expose the assaulter. Show zero tolerance. Go to the police. Demand justice. Shame the predator publicly. It is your dignity. Your life.
No more suffering in silence!