From: Shoma Chaudhury
Sent: Thursday, November 28, 2013 05:52 AM
To: Editors; Bureau; Neena Tejpal; Prawal Srivastava; Webeditors; Sanjay Dubey
Subject: Resignation from Tehelka
This has been a damaging time for all associated with Tehelka. Since the devastating allegation was first brought to my notice on 18th November, I have taken a series of actions in response to this complaint. To my mind, I acted on instant outrage and solidarity for our colleague as a woman and co-worker.
After the first steps to immediately address her expressed needs, the process of setting up the anti-sexual harassment committee was begun. There were only two days to act on the complaint before the story broke in the press. Post this, things have been misconstrued and have snowballed exponentially in the media, based on half-facts and selective leaks. In the next stage, once the committee was formed, the law would have taken its course according to the findings and recommendations.
Over the past week, I have been accused of an attempt to “cover-up” and for not standing by my feminist positions. While I accept that I could have done many things differently and in a more measured way, I reject the allegations of a cover-up because in no way could the first actions that were taken be deemed suppression of any kind. As for my feminist positions, I believe I acted in consonance with them by giving my colleague’s account precedence over everything else.
However, despite this, as a result of what’s transpired over the past few days my integrity has repeatedly been questioned by people from our fraternity and, in fact, by the public at large. I would like to take cognizance of this.
I have worked hard for Tehelka for many years and what we have stood for is very dear to me and I hold it in high esteem. I do not want questions raised about my integrity to tarnish the image of Tehelka, which it has done in the past week. Therefore, I resign as Managing Editor with immediate effect.
There are many readers and colleagues who have believed in me and expressed their faith through this very difficult time. I am deeply grateful to them.
I will come in to office to close the issue and do the necessary handovers. I cannot express how painful this is for me. It has never been a part of me to give up midway through a challenge. I would have liked to continue at Tehelka to see us through this dark time, but I am no longer sure whether my presence is harming or helping Tehelka.
I deeply regret any inadequacies or lack of clarity I may have displayed in my leadership.
28 November 2013
Accepting Victim’s resignation
It is unfortunate that your resignation from Tehelka comes under these circumstances. As you have said, we have stood together for women’s rights, and today for me to be seen in opposition to you is a real travesty by any account.
In the absence of an existing official grievance redressal mechanism in office, along Vishaka guidelines, when this crisis hit, I acted on instant outrage and solidarity for you as a woman and a colleague. My responses may not have reflected the correct formal procedures but the intent cannot be doubted.
To feel a sense closure, you had asked for a written apology from Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal; an acknowledgement of this apology to be sent to office; and the setting up of an anti-sexual harassment cell in Tehelka.
Within one day of your complaint, you had the written apology. Tarun stepped down the next day. After this, the process of setting up the anti-sexual harassment committee was begun. I asked you to suggest names as well. You are yet to give names of your nominees.
There were only two days to act on your complaint before the story broke in the press. I believe the taken actions strongly count as my standing by you. Post this, things have been misconstrued and have snowballed exponentially in the media, based on half-facts and selective leaks.
In your initial conversations with me, you had wanted redressal from within the institution in a way that would acknowledge the gravity of your complaint, yet protect your privacy. I proceeded with this in mind. You, above all others, in the clamour surrounding us today, know the truth of my actions in support of you.
You have accused me of many things in your resignation letter. This is not the time to enter into a detailed point-counter point exercise with you. There are, however, a few things that must be set straight, particularly given that I am being publicly accused of a ‘cover-up.’
Firstly, the written apology was forwarded to your three journalist confidantes. This cannot be read as an attempt to hush-up things.
On 19 November, I called you to check whether an acknowledgement of Tarun’s apology should now be sent to the Tehelka staff. I also strongly urged you to continue working in Tehelka, if you wanted to. You said you needed a week to think it through and asked me to hold-off the acknowledgment till then. This is the only reason an acknowledgement of the apology was not sent to the staff and bureau immediately.
Regarding your assertion in your resignation letter that I am only “now” attempting to establish that Tarun has “another version”: this is factually untrue. It was recorded in my first email that he said he had ‘misread the situation’. This ‘other version’ is also on record on 19 November in the personal email from Tarun to you, which you copied to the three journalists and me in your reply. Subsequently, this version was also discussed on the phone between you and me.
Questions have been asked about why I did not go to the police. In our conversation, you had mentioned that you had considered this option but did not want to go that route. I thought I should respect that and had no reason to disbelieve this, as you had already spoken to journalists about your sexual assault, and both they, and you, could have gone to the police in the ten days that transpired before you brought your complaint to me. Once the enquiry committee took the matter into its hands, its recommendations would have been followed and the course of law would have taken over.
In so far as the issues you have raised over Tarun’s recusal letter, and my use of the words “untoward incident” or “satisfied”, I have already been on national television both accepting and explaining how and why the vocabulary of this was inadequate. You also have emails from me, copied to the three journalists, on Thursday, 20 November, explaining this.
I accept that you may have found expressions I used, verbal or written, inappropriate. I am sorry about this, and only say that notwithstanding the mildness perceived in my language, I took strong steps to ensure that there could be no possible silencing of the issue.
Regarding your objections to the wording of Tarun’s written apology, you received this email on Tuesday afternoon, 19 November. You mailed wanting phrases changed on 21 November, after the press storm triggered by the leak. By then, events were too fast-paced, to address your concerns.
After Wednesday night, 20 November, we haven’t spoken or communicated in any way, other than through emails. The suggestion that I am involved in any attempt to intimidate you or your family is absolutely untrue and uncalled for. The same goes for your claims that I have indulged in character assassination or slander against you.
From the moment I received your complaint, my actions, were driven by outrage on your behalf, urgent concern for you, and a desire to assuage your sense of injury. In this, contrary to assertions in the media, I was, in fact, demonstrably driven to honour your word above any other. To this extent, I, rightly or wrongly, did not even cross-check your account with the other journalists you had confided in, until you had been given the official apology you sought.
At the end, you have accused not just Mr.Tejpal, but Tehelka of failing “women, employees, journalists and feminists collectively”. This accusation unduly extrapolates the events of the last week with an institution whose journalists, staff and body of work have nothing to do with it.
Today, despite my immediate and assertive actions in support of you, I stand wrongly defaced and accused of having abandoned the public values I uphold in my work. This leaves me inexpressibly dismayed.
I wish you well in the future.
27 November 2013
On media reports
I strongly reject the allegations in the media that I am involved in any manner with any slander, intimidation or character assassination of the complainant journalist. This is a malicious campaign that has no basis in truth.
Shoma Chaudhury, Managing Editor, Tehelka
27 November 2013
On National Commission for Women notice
Contrary to media reports, Tehelka Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury has responded to National Commission for Women. All detailed reports and responses will be put out today
26 November 2013
On Sexual Harassment Enquiry Committee
Since last Thursday, Tehelka has requested several people to be a part of the Sexual Harassment Enquiry Committee in Tehelka, including eminent people like Urvashi Butalia, Inakshi Ganguly, Sharmila Tagore, Justice Leela Seth, Prem Shankar Jha, Uma Chakravarti, Vrinda Grover, and several others. Tehelka has also written to the complainant journalist asking her to suggest some names for the committee but she hasn’t replied. However, despite all our efforts, there is a strong sense amongst lawyers and activists that, given that a criminal enquiry by Goa police was started on Thursday itself and a criminal case has now been filed, an Enquiry Committee would not have any legal standing. Hence, many of the people Tehelka has approached wish to recuse themselves from the committee. We are trying to persuade them to reconsider and remain committed to having such a committee to investigate this matter.
26 November 2013
In furtherance to Tehelka’s acceptance of Tarun Tejpal’s recusal from editorship of Tehelka on November 20th, which followed the official unconditional apology he had mailed to the journalist concerned on November 19th, Tehelka has now constituted a formal complaints committee, in accordance to Vishaka guidelines, to be presided over by Urvashi Butalia, eminent feminist and publisher, to investigate the matter. The other members of the committee will be announced shortly.
In addition to this, Tehelka will ensure setting up a formal complaints committee, according to section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013), an institutional mechanism that was sorely missing in Tehelka.
Shoma Chaudhury, Managing Editor, Tehelka
21 November 2013