Confronting certainties


Rethinking the new sexual offences law and the feminist strategies

Anusha Rizvi and Manisha Sethi Delhi

On the night of December 16, 2012, a young man, naked, splattered in blood, stood on the side of a road, waving, in an attempt to stop the cars that whizzed past him. They sometimes slowed down, amazed at the spectacle he offered; however none stopped to help. Close to him lay the mangled body of his female friend, a woman so grievously injured that she could scarcely move. The iron rods that were inserted into her vagina had pulled out her intestines. A few days later, the young girl succumbed to septicemia and multi organ failure.  

As the news of this gruesome rape and brutalization spread, thousands of people took to the streets demanding justice for the couple. Faced with the teeming mass of protestors, the government responded by instituting the Justice Verma Committee to suggest legislative changes in rape and sexual offences law. Sifting through thousands of suggestions, the Justice Verma Committee submitted its findings within a month of its founding. In the surcharged atmosphere of those days, its swiftness was saluted. The Cabinet promulgated an ordinance in early February and the Criminal Law Amendments stood passed by both houses of the Parliament by 21 March 2013. 

The new law expanded the definition of rape to include non-penile penetration. This signaled the recognition of the full range of sexual assaults, which can violate a woman’s bodily integrity and the fruition of a long struggle by women’s groups for legal reforms.

The new rape law, and feminist strategies around sexual violence cases in recent times, however, requires a larger debate. It would perhaps be wiser to conduct this debate within feminist frames, than to allow the agents of status quo to take over. It is with this in mind that we would like to discuss two cases in particular, the first pertains to the charges of rape against Tarun Tejpal, founding editor of Tehelka; and the second, an allegation of rape against Khurshid Anwar, activist and director of a Delhi-based NGO. Although the nature of both cases is very different, there are striking parallels in the manner in which both travelled some distance in the news and social media before acquiring any legal form and raise urgent questions, which need addressing.

The Tarun Tejpal Case

Tarun Tejpal, Editor in Chief of Tehelka magazine is accused of allegedly raping a junior colleague on the 7th and 8th of November, in two separate incidences, in a hotel lift, in Goa.

The case unfolded in public domain in a series of leaked internal emails, beginning with Tarun Tejpal’s apology to his junior colleague in which he recused himself from the post of the Editor in Chief of Tehelka.  Arriving in the inboxes of many people only minutes after it was mailed to the staff of Tehelka, on November 20, it unleashed social media frenzy. Soon afterwards, the original complaint of the journalist sent to Shoma Chaudhury on November 18, 2013, was also leaked online, allowing a large number of people to know in precise detail what Tarun Tejpal stood accused of.