In light of the allegations against TEHELKA founder and former editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal, TEHELKA seems to have lost the credibility and high moral ground that it had achieved through its unique brand of journalism. It will be very unfortunate if an institution like TEHELKA is forced to close down because of one alleged incident of sexual assault. If that happens, India’s Adivasis, who have been betrayed by the “mainstream” in almost every sphere of life, would be losing a rare friend among media organisations. That’s a reputation TEHELKA has earned over the years through its indomitable coverage of issues concerning Adivasis and other marginalised sections of the society.
Sections of the Indian media have portrayed the Adivasis as “uneducated”, “uncivilised” and “backward”. Even mainstream historians have rarely recognised the contribution of Adivasis to the freedom struggle, even though their fight against British rule had begun long before the revolt of 1857. Even after Independence, the indigenous philosophy of the Adivasis was totally undermined, their rights over natural resources were not recognised and they were treated like beasts. They were alienated from their land and resources in the name of so-called “growth and development”. Their basic issues were never addressed. The Adivasis became voiceless as their concerns were hardly given space in the national media.
However, in the recent past, TEHELKA provided a platform for voicing the issues of the Adivasis. Indeed, it was the only voice of the Adivasis in the National Capital.
TEHELKA was at the forefront of exposing the Salwa Judum, a private militia that the Chhattisgarh government promoted by arming Adivasi youth. Hundreds of Adivasis were killed, thousands of houses burned down and women raped. Adivasis were forced to vacate as many as 644 villages. It was suspected that all this was part of a plan to hand over the Adivasis’ land and resources to corporates. Adivasis also had to face the brunt of “Operation Green Hunt”, which was launched to take on the Maoists in the so-called “red corridor”. TEHELKA played a leading role in exposing this at the national and international level.
TEHELKA also provided a space to many unsung heroes among the Adivasis. The THiNK fest, too, gave them an opportunity to speak about their travails and agony to members of the Indian elite. How can we forget TEHELKA’s campaign for Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Manish Kunjam, whom the Chhattisgarh police arrested, humiliated and tortured after accusing them of being Maoist aides? How can we forget TEHELKA’s exposé on the ground reality of Jairam Ramesh’s dream project, the Saranda Action Plan? And how can we forget TEHELKA’s incessant reporting on the killing zone in the “red corridor” of Jharkhand? Adivasis still need a platform like TEHELKA to bring their issues into the mainstream.