New Delhi/Panaji: Pressure mounted Thursday for action against Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal for allegedly molesting a woman journalist in a five star hotel as the Goa government and the National Commission for Women (NCW) indicated they could act in the case.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded action in the case saying the criminality of the act can't be shielded.
The incident, which came to light Wednesday night, has sparked off wide condemnation from media and women activists, who demanded that the matter should be probed and could not be treated as an "internal matter" of the weekly magazine that is known for its investigative articles.
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said the victim has to come forward and file a complaint about the incident that allegedly took place in a hotel in north Goa where Tehelka had organised its Think Fest early this month.
"Unless I have a complaint I cannot prove guilt," he said.
Parrikar also hinted they could hold a preliminary probe saying a criminal act has happened in the jurisdiction of the state.
On Wednesday, Tehelka's managing editor Shoma Chaudhury sent an email to employees, containing an appended letter from Tejpal, Tehelka's founder and editor-in-chief.
In an email to Chaudhary earlier, Tejpal said: "A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, has led to an unfortunate incident that is against all we believe in and fight for."
"I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months," Tejpal said.
In her email letter to her employees Chaudhary said : "There was an incident which has been dealt with internally. An unconditional apology was extended by Tarun. The journalist concerned was satisfied with the action taken. Tarun voluntarily recusing himself as editor is in keeping with the standards we have espoused as an institution and want to live by."
But NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma said Tejpal could not decide his own punishment.
Sharma said once the matter is brought to the National Commission for Women "we will investigate the matter and ensure that the accused gets punishment, if found guilty. He will have to face a trial in the court."
The BJP, which faced embarrassment following a 2001 Tehelka sting operation in which its then president Bangaru Laxman was caught accepting a bribe from purported arms dealers, said the alleged act of molestation was tantamount to rape according to law.
BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi said: "In today's amended definition, the doing of Tarun Tejpal is called rape. He should be arrested."
She termed Tejpal's "atonement" letter "immensely shocking", adding: "… Criminality cannot be shielded in this action."
She demanded that both the NCW and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) probe the case and a police case be filed against Tejpal.
The Congress party also condemned the incident.
"Be it anyone big or small, the demand for action remains the same...If black sheep are there in the four pillars of democracy, who are not common people but guide them, then it is a very serious issue," party spokesperson Meem Afzal said.
Condemning the manner in which the organization handled the incident, the Editors Guild of India said : "A self-proclaimed atonement is hardly the remedy for what allegations suggest is outright criminality."
As the media mounted pressure on Tehelka for the manner in which they treated the sexual harassment charges, Chaudhury told reporters she needed a little time to address all the questions.
"I want to address the issues that have been raised, please give me a chance to do it in a decent way. I am from the fraternity and understand the need for transparency but I do need the time to act correctly on it," she said, adding that they are in the process of setting up a three-member committee to go into the incident.
Former top police official and prominent civil society member Kiran Bedi termed the alleged incident an "extremely erroneous act".
Social activist Kavita Srivastav said even if the victim does not file an FIR, Tejpal should not return as the editor-in-chief of Tehelka.
The Indian Women's Press Corps said it "strongly condemns" the sexual misconduct by the editor-in-chief of Tehelka against a young woman journalist.
The Press Club of India described the incident as a "slur" on the name of Indian journalism and hoped the "shocking happening at Tehelka" won't deter women from wanting to become journalists.
The Delhi Union of Journalists said: "This is not the time to hide behind technicalities and penances but to live by the standards it (Tehelka) has set for others. Inward gazing may cleanse the conscience but a crime deserves and must get its punishment. And what Tejpal has done is a crime."