Tarun Tejpal Verdict: Judgment Raise Serious Questions About The Court’s Understanding Of The Law

Tarun Tejpal Verdict: Judgment Raise Serious Questions About The Court’s Understanding Of The Law Tarun Tejpal, the former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, was acquitted in a sexual assault case by a Goa court. (Photo Credit: PTI)

One person – Tarun Tejpal – was on trial for alleged rape and sexual assault of a young journalist. But after reading the 527-page judgment of Goa additional sessions judge, one gets the impression that the two persons – one an individual (the survivor/complainant) and another an entire department (Goa Police) – have been left in the dock.

Whether the judge took liberty with facts and gave a needlessly long rope to Tejpal is something for a higher court to decide. But the judgment does raise serious questions about the court’s understanding of the law.

The judgment leaves a lot of ground open for appeal by the prosecution but one thing is certain: Tarun Tejpal has certainly been handed a much stronger case to defend himself.

The Goa Police, which investigated the matter, has much to answer for, beginning with why it did such a shoddy job investigating such a high-profile case.

When the court underscores the point that the survivor didn’t show enough signs of being a survivor – what else can explain the court’s observation that the “photos show the prosecutrix to be absolutely cheerful and with a smile on her face and not disturbed, reserved, terrified or traumatised in any manner” – is it setting a SOP-of-sorts as to how survior in cases of sexual assault or rape should behave or look like or dress in the days after the alleged assault has taken place?

Should courts acquit the accused if the survivor doesn’t cry enough or doesn’t go into depression? How long before the complainant/survivor has to wait before she can step out of her home and begin leading her normal life, including going on vacations?

After all, the court does say: “It is extremely revealing that the prosecutrix’s account neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that a prosecutrix of of sexual assault on consecutive two nights might plausibly show nor does it show any such behaviour on the part of the accused.”

READ: Tarun Tejpal Verdict — Do Women Have To ‘Show’ Trauma To Be Believed?

Equally questionable is the court’s view that the survivor may have doctored her initial statements after speaking to senior advocates like Indira Jaising and Rebecca John. “With the help of experts, there may be a possibility of doctoring events or adding of incidents. Advocate for the accused has thus rightly submitted that the deposition of the prosecutrix has to be scrutinised from that angle,” the judge writes in her judgment.

This is possibly a new kind of jurisprudence where something that “may have” happened and about which the lawyer for the accused talks can be used to tarnish the credibility of the complainant.

This is possibly a new kind of jurisprudence where something that “may have” happened and about which the lawyer for the accused talks can be used to tarnish the credibility of the complainant.

Equally important for all future rape survivors to keep in mind before filing a complaint is that they must keep a careful record of what all happened. Was the forced kiss long or short? Did the tongue go inside the mouth and how deep?

After all, the court does say this: “The prosecutrix has stated in court that the accused put his tongue in her private part. The testimonies of her friends have stated that the accused forced his tongue into her mouth. This part is missing from her first written versions; she has only written that the accused kissed her, without describing the nature of the kiss, therefore showing an improvement in her evidence, making it unreliable.”

Much of the judgment is the judge finding loopholes in the complainant’s story, often using the words that she used to describe events against her.

Much of the judgment is the judge finding loopholes in the complainant’s story, often using the words that she used to describe events against her.

Also, ladies, the next time someone tries to force himself upon you and you feel angry enough to file a complaint, please do ensure you have never flirted or had physical relationship with anyone.

After all, the judge does quote the defence witness Nikhil Agarwal to say “it was routine for prosecutrix to have such sexual conversation with friends” and that her messages proved that “it was entirely the norm for the prosecutrix to have such flirtatious and sexual conversations with friend and acquaintances.

Let’s not forget that the complainant isn’t the one on trial. The judge’s observations that she changed statements about how events unfolded or how Tejpal did what he allegedly did can’t be the main reason for giving Tejpal the benefit of the doubt.

The judge has pointed out that the prosecution failed to provide corroborative evidence to support the allegations made by the complainant. The judge said, “There is also no medical evidence on record on account of delay in lodgement of FIR and as the prosecutrix had refused to go for medical examination.” The Goa Police must also explain the discrepancies in its probe that the judge has pointed to in her judgment. For instance, why the investigating officer “in some cases, such as the CCTV footage of the first floor of block 7 of the Grand Hyatt, entirely destroyed the evidence.”

Maneesh Chhibber is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.

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