Tejpal saga calls for a privacy law



The first victim of any sexual assault case in India is not the perpetrator but the complainant as there is no legal mechanism to protect her privacy. The young woman journalist who mustered courage to lodge a complaint against editor-in-chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, for his demeanor, had found herself at the receiving end.

Not only her entire complaint was posted on internet revealing her identity, uncomfortable questions on her motive were also raised. The person who led the tirade was law-maker and lyricist Javed Akhtar, who had to withdraw his tweet following uproar on social media. But, it indicated the mindset against women in our society.

The Tejpal saga reminds me of a sexual harassment case in mid 2000 where the victim went into depression after she failed to find even a single person on her side. The victim used to work in an international organization that works world-wide for empowerment of women. Her only crime was that she resisted sexual advances of her senior colleague for some time, a cause for her firing from job. When she lodged a complaint in the organization dominated by women employees not even a single lady stood up to testify in her favour.

Not getting any justice from within the organisation forced her to look for justice from the Women and Child Development ministry. An independent inquiry by the ministry found her sexual harassment allegations to be true but her tormentor went scot-free as he had diplomatic immunity.

“Nothing happened to him,” she told me recently asking for help. She also said that the case had left her physically and mentally fragile and she now visits a doctor regularly to treat her depression, a return gift of Indian system for lodging a sexual harassment complaint against a powerful boss.

What had pained me the most was a journalist colleague from a rival newspaper questioning her intentions for lodging a complaint, after I did a story, rather than showing sympathy and vowing to fight against rampant sexual harassment at workplace.

The woman journalist is facing similar questions from many on television and social media. Her moral being has become a talking point as Tehelka management tried its best to white-wash the scandal and protect Tarun Tejpal, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. The politicians are trying to score brownie point on her count, a condemnable act.

The so-called ethics and self-regulation has fallen flat as someone’s trauma is now a juicy story for news channel and social media. In the media world driven by advertising, such stories attract audience, meaning higher advertising revenue.

That should not be allowed and the government should wake-up. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive privacy law protecting one’s individuality, especially in the time of crises. Such a law is also needed as there is growing evidence that those in power use their clout to snoop into private lives of individuals. The latest being, the snooping scandal involving Amit Shah, a close aide of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Intelligence agencies are equipped with technology to snoop into anyone’s life without any authorization.

The so-called rules for protecting the privacy of an individual against illegal snooping are just an eyewash. India needs a law where a person can seek immediate compensation for infringement of his or her privacy.

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