Tarun Tejpal case: Trial court verdict like ‘manual for rape victims’, says HC

The sessions court had on May 21 acquitted Tejpal, who was accused of raping and sexually assaulting his then colleague in a hotel elevator on November 7, 2013, and November 8, 2013.

The High Court of Bombay at Goa on Wednesday observed that the judgment of the sessions court that acquitted Tarun Tejpal, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka, in a case of rape and sexual assault was “a kind of a manual for rape victims” on how they should conduct themselves.

Granting leave to appeal to the Goa government that has challenged the May 21 judgment of the sessions court, a vacation bench of Justice S C Gupte issued notice to Tejpal. The case will be heard next on June 24.

The sessions court had on May 21 acquitted Tejpal, who was accused of raping and sexually assaulting his then colleague in a hotel elevator on November 7, 2013, and November 8, 2013.

On Wednesday, Justice S C Gupte said the sessions court’s verdict shows that the case of the prosecution is “not even fully stated”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the state government with Advocate General of Goa Devidas Pangam and Additional Public Prosecutor Pravin Faldessai, told the High Court, “It pains me to point out that in the judgment of the sessions court there was a complete lack of sensitivity. One can’t make out if the victim is on trial or the accused.”

Mehta also said the judgment of the trial court “defines the ideal conduct of a victim” and is replete with “shocking examples” of how a victim of sexual assault must conduct herself. He then went on to read parts of the judgment in which Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi wrote, “This is a narrative of extreme implausibility and it is not possible to believe that the prosecutrix, a woman who is aware of laws, intelligent, alert and physically fit (yoga trainer), would not push or ward off the accused if she got pushed up against the wall, especially when she was facing him and especially when she saw him coming uncomfortably close to her in her private space.”

At this, Justice Gupte said, “It is a kind of manual for rape victims, how they should conduct themselves.”

Mehta also pointed out that while a 2013 amendment to Section 53A of the Indian Evidence Act bars the defence from referring to any past sexual conduct of the victim in a case of sexual assault, the trial court judgment had a series of such cross-examinations of the woman who had accused Tejpal of the offence. He said the trial court was a “mute spectator” even as the defence in the case “blatantly entered into shaming the victim.”

Mehta urged the court to direct the trial court to redact references made to prominent lawyers Indira Jaisingh and Rebecca John, whom the victim had approached after the alleged sexual assault in November 2013. He said the trial court’s judgment indicates that the woman’s decision to approach these lawyers had gone against her in this case.

“If this girl would have approached me, I would have told her to consult Indira Jaising or Rebecca John,” Mehta told the court.

At this, Justice Gupte observed that the trial court had recorded the reference made to Jaising as “Brahmastra” in the judgment.

The trial court judgment had recorded that Jaising was known to the woman and “her number is saved under the nickname Brahmastra”.

While acquitting Tejpal, the trial judge had observed, “With the help of experts, there may be a possibility of doctoring of events or adding of incidents. Advocate for the accused has thus rightly submitted that the deposition of the prosecutrix has to be scrutinised in that angle.”

Calling himself a “feminist”, Mehta said, “The remarks were made that they are feminists as if it is a bad thing…Since when does being a feminist have a negative connotation in this country?,” said Mehta. “I am flagging this issue because it will have pan-India ramifications… this judgment will be read all over the world and these lawyers will be defamed,” Mehta said, seeking a redaction of their names from the judgment.

On May 27, the High Court had directed the trial court to redact all references pertaining to the identity of the victim and that of her family members from the 527-page judgment.

On Wednesday, the court said, “The judgment is already uploaded and is in the public realm. As per our earlier order, all references to the victim’s identity have been redacted from the judgment.”

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