Former editor-in-chief of 'Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal has been acquitted of all charges in the sexual assault and rape case of a junior colleague by the District and Sessions Court at Mapusa, Goa on Friday.
After the acquittal, Tejpal in a statement said that “In November 2013 I was falsely accused of sexual assault by a colleague and today trial court of additional sessions judge in Goa has acquitted me. In an awfully vitiated age where ordinary courage has become rare, I thank her for standing by the truth.”
Special public prosecutor Francisco Tavora said the State will challenge Tejpal's acquittal in the High Court.
The seven-year-old case went through several twists and turns after the Goan Court acquitted him on what Tejpal said was due to the CCTV camera footage in the Hotel where the incident is said to have occurred, that saved him. The trial was held in-camera at Tejpal's instance. Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi reserved her verdict in the seven-year-old case, last month.
He was tried for committing offences punishable under IPC Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (sexual harassment), 354A(1)(I)(II)(demand for sexual favours), 354B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 376 (2)(f) (person in a position of authority over women, committing rape) and 376(2)(k) (rape by a person in a position of control).
The former editor-in-chief was accused of forcing himself on his young colleague much against her wishes, inside an elevator of the Grand Hyatt, Bambolim, Goa on November 7 and 8, 2013, during the newsmagazine's official event - the THiNK 13 festival.
On November 18, 2013, a few days after the incident, the victim complained to Tehelka's then managing editor, another acclaimed journalist - Shoma Chaudhry.
The very next day, Tejpal sent a formal apology to the victim in which he said, "I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on November 7 and November 8 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me."
The victim, however, insisted that an anti-sexual harassment cell be set up under the Vishakha guidelines to investigate the matter.
Given that his apology presents an entirely different version from my testimony, ie. attempts to establish that a "sexual liaison" took place as opposed to him sexually molesting me, I insist once again in the spirit of justice, to constitute an anti-sexual harassment cell in accordance with Vishakha Guidelines, she stated.
Tejpal eventually stepped down as editor for six months for inquiry.
On November 22, 2013, the Goa Police took suo motu cognisance of the allegations and registered a complaint.
Tejpal alleged he was being framed, and the case was a political conspiracy against him, especially since BJP was the ruling party in Goa then.This was after the Operation West End sting which had allegedly exposed the then ruling party – NDA led by BJP corrupt defence deals, forcing the exit of BJP president, late Bengaru Laxman and defence minister George Fernandes.
Tejpal was arrested on November 30, 2013, after a local court in Goa rejected his anticipatory bail application.
He was granted regular bail by the Supreme Court in July 2014.
In February 2014, the Goa Police Crime Branch filed a 2,846-page charge sheet against him.
Three years later, in June 2017, the Sessions Court allowed Tejpal's application to conduct the trial in-camera to protect both the parties' dignity, respect, and privacy.
On September 28, 2017, the Sessions Court framed charges against him.
The victim testified in March 2018.
The prosecution's case rested mainly on the victim's statement, statements of her colleagues, and electronic evidence in the form of CCTV footage, e-mails and WhatsApp messages.
In August 2019, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M R Shah and B R Gavai SC rejected Tejpal's plea to quash the charges against him and directed the Sessions Court to complete the trial within six months.
The prosecution then filed a supplementary charge sheet in January this year.
In March, the prosecution and defence arguments concluded arguments and the case was reserved for orders.