Revati Laul has been a journalist for more than 18 years, more than four of which she worked at Tehelka. The Delhi resident quit the renowned investigative magazine upon learning that founder Tarun Tejpal had been accused of sexually assaulting a junior female colleague in Goa.
The Indian Sun spoke to her about why the scandal has rocked India.
“Tarun and Shoma have always batted for the underdog. Whether it’s Dalits, whether its lower caste people, whether it’s women, whether its labour problems, whether it’s people fighting large mining companies – stories that never found their way into the mainstream media space found their way to the cover of Tehelka.
“Which is why it had this disproportionately large influence compared to its actual readership both online and offline. It’s because the intelligentsia, people in positions of power elsewhere, and also people who belong to the less literate space in this country, all felt that Tehelka was their go to space — where they wanted to read or have an issue concerning the downtrodden covered.”
Laul said Tehelka was known for its coverage of women’s issues and rape long before the December 16 gang rape in Delhi rocked the nation last year.
Laul: “This is the kind of thing that we were known for, so the irony can’t be more stark. And this is the reason why people have been covering this relentlessly in the media.
“I am equally upset that Shoma’s house should be vandalised [by BJP supporters], that Tarun’s children should have smear campaigns against them, that the media should be focusing on his daughter – it’s terrible and I deplore all of that.
“But the reason why it has become so large is because Tarun stood for all these things.”
The Cult of Tejpal
Laul said Tejpal was “a cult figure of journalism” in India.
“If you ask the guy selling you cigarettes across the street, he will tell you that the word Tehelka means, in their minds, an organisation that knocks the BJP coalition government out of power.
“For a Hindi speaking mass to even know of the existence of a small English [language] magazine tells you the disproportionate power that this magazine has in the public mind. Which is why it has always been taken seriously for all it’s done, for all the journalism it’s done, ever since.”
Why she quit
Laul said she was “completely shattered” when she heard about the incident.
“I wanted to quit immediately but I spoke to two of the three other friends who she had confided in while she was in Goa, and they said ‘You know, wait for a bit because maybe we’ll all stick together’.
“Even before the [Tarun’s] public apology and everything was tendered, the kind of conversations that I felt Shoma was having with my friend over the phone that I was told about, I just didn’t like at all. It sounded to me like she was batting for Tarun all along. And that sickened me.
“By Tuesday I just couldn’t take it anymore, I said I can’t work for this establishment, and I sent in a resignation and it was accepted a day later.”
Public outrage: Have attitudes to rape changed in India?
Laulsaid one thing the incident has highlighted is just how much attitudes towards rape have changed in India since the 16 December crime.
“There’s an avalanche of support for my friend. And I think some of this has to do with the fact that the atmosphere… has changed after the December Delhi rape.
“The media’s unequivocally standing on her side, and I think that is something that is fantastic.”
Workplace harassment: India’s unspoken plague
The case has also shone the light on workplace harassment in India, a country where urban women are still only just beginning to enter the workforce instead of keeping up traditional duties in the home.
Laul said sexual harassment is commonplace in workplaces across India.
“It’s the worst kept secret across workspaces in India and you’ll find this not just in media but across the spectrum. You talk to any woman in any workspace and you will find that they will tell you stories that have happened within their workspaces, if not with them than with colleagues.
“We live in a very patriarchal society. There is often a huge sense of entitlement that is attached to people in positions of power across the spectrum. And that entitlement sometimes leads to a blind sightedness where they cannot see beyond themselves anymore, and so anything they do is fair any person’s fair game.
“They cannot conceive of their advances towards someone as anything other than expected and desired, and that comes from a deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny that unfortunately is the lay of the land in this country.”
Laul said the fact that there is suddenly a wave of new resistance to these old attitudes is a new development in India, and a welcome one at that.