Tehleka sexual assault case: Victims shocking emails reveals the dirt of Tejpal
NA, New Delhi
On the night of 7 th November 2013, the opening night of Tehelka’s Think festival, I had discharged my duties for the day as the chaperone for Mr Robert De Niro. As it was Mr De Niro and his daughter’s first night in Goa and at the festival, my editor in chief MrTarunTejpal accompanied Mr De Niro, Drena De Niro (his daughter) and I to Mr De Niro’s suite to wish him goodnight. (As his chaperone, my work was to be available all day to Mr De Niro and Drena, take them sightseeing, make sure they were well looked after in Goa and at the Hyatt – until they retired to their suite at night. )
As we left the suite, MrTejpal and I were in conversation — I have known him since I was a child, he had worked closely with my father who was also a journalist, and after my father’s accident MrTejpal had always been a paternal figure to me. He was responsible for offering me my first job, and was always just a phone call away whenever I needed his advice on a story or life. His daughter, TiyaTejpal and I are very close friends as well.
As we made our way out of the elevator of Block 7 at the Grand Hyatt, MrTejpal held my arm and pulled me back into the lift. He said – “Let’s go wake up Bob” (Mr De Niro) and I asked him why he wanted to do that. I then realized that MrTejpal was simply pressing buttons on the lift’s panel to make the elevator stay in circuit, preventing it from stopping anywhere, and for the doors to open.
At this point, he began to kiss me — from the first moment of his doing so, I asked him to stop, citing several reasons, including my friendship to Tiya, my closeness to his family, the fact that he had known me since I was a child, the fact that I worked for Tehelka and for ShomaChaudhury – who is my managing editor and mentor. It was like talking to a deaf person. MrTejpal lifted my dress up, went down on his knees and pulled my underwear down. He attempted to perform oral sex on me as I continued to struggle and hysterically asked him to stop. At that moment he began to try and penetrate me with his fingers, I became scared and pushed him hard and asked him to stop the lift. He would not listen. The lift stopped on the ground floor as MrTejpal’s hands were on me and could not press the button for yet another floor to keep it in circuit. As soon as the doors opened, I picked up my underwear and began walking out of the elevator rapidly – he was still following me, asking me what the matter was.
I said “It’s all wrong. I work for you and Shoma.” He said first “It’s alright to be in love with more than one person,” and then he said, “Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job.” I was walking still faster, blinking back tears.
By this time, we had made our way from Block 7 to the main lawns of the Grand Hyatt, where I walked into the grassy dinner area full of people and MrTejpal walked off towards the performance area. Right as soon as he was out of sight, I took a taxi back to my hotel – the International Centre for Goa, where the Tehelka staff was staying, and went to the room where the Literary Editor ShougatDasgupta and the Photo Editor IshanTankha were staying. I also called another friend and colleague – investigative reporter G Vishnu to the room and told them what had occurred. While the four of us were talking in the balcony, MrTejpal sent me a text message from his personal phone number at1.17 am, which said “The fingertips”. This was the extent he had managed to penetrate me before I pushed him and ran out of the lift. I told the people with me on the balcony about this. Some of us considered resigning as soon as Think was over. I called my boyfriend AmanSethi in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from IshanTankha’siPhone and told him what had happened.
I was confused, hurt and really, really scared. At that point I did not want to lose my job. And so the next morning, I went about my work determined not to give MrTejpal or Tehelka a reason to fire me, as I was sure they would do once this story got out. At a few points of the day, I discussed the events of the previous night with ShougatDasgupta, G Vishnu and IshanTankha, who were concerned about me after the state they had seen me in the previous night. In the afternoon, I accompanied Mr De Niro, his daughter, Sir VS Naipaul, Lady Naipaul and MrTejpal’s wife to the Governor’s bungalow for lunch.
Given the company we were in, I did not make any mention of what had occurred to Ms GeetanBatra, MrTejpal’s wife. Once I had escorted Mr. De Niro back to his room post lunch, he expressed a desire to attend one of the sessions at the Main Hall. I brought him down to the Green Room, where MrTejpal found us, and asked me to bring Mr De Niro back down for MrAmitabhBachchan’ssession as he wanted the two to meet. I took Mr De Niro and his daughter shopping to Panjim, and brought them back in time for MrBachchan’s session as instructed. Once the session was done, MrTejpal, Mr De Niro, MrBachchan and a few other members of the film industry, lawyers, politicians etc were supposed to meet at the Block 7 Grand Club for drinks.
I escorted Mr De Niro and Drena to this bar, told them I would return to my hotel, change, and be right back. While I was getting dressed at my hotel, MrTejpal called me from ThakurJi’s phone (Thakurji is the caretaker and manager of Tehelka’s Bombay office premises) and asked me where I was. I informed him I was just about to leave for the Grand Hyatt. In the taxi I noticed he had aready sent me two text messages on my phone which said “Where r u?” at 8:29and then “??” at 8:42. from his personal number.
I replied with the following messages: “On my way to the lounge” 8.42 pm, “Had to sort out a lost package for Drena and get a bit presentable. See you in 10” at 8.44 pm and “Call tee she needs you” at 8.47 pm as Tiyahad messaged me asking to help her find Tarun. At this point I was trying to be as normal and professional as possible and somehow get through my duties.
Five minutes later, as I was walking into the Grand Club at Block 7, MrTejpal was coming out of the lounge. He pointed at me asking me to stop. I was already worried that I was late and that Mr De Niro had asked for me. MrTejpal came to me and said “Come up with me, we have to get something from Bob’s room”. I was frightened that this would lead to a repeat of the previous night and so I said, “What does he need? I’ll go get it.” I was scared of getting into the lift with him again, and more terrified that he was going to try and take me into a room this time. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift (which is barely a few steps away from the lobby of block 7 where he had asked me to wait). When the doors closed, he started to try and kiss me again. I said “Tarun, please, no, just stop,” he pulled away, smiled, patted my cheek and said “Why? Ok. I’ll stop.” I said again “This just isn’t right. Tiya is my best friend. I had lunch with Geetan today. ”
He smiled again and just for a moment I thought I had appealed to his better sense. I turned away from him, desperately waiting for the door to open (there are only three floors in Block 7 (G, 1 and 2), we were between floors). Within seconds of my turning around, he started to lift up my dress. He lifted it all the way up and said “You’re unbelievable”. The door opened on the second floor, on Mr De Niro’s floor — and he said again – “The universe is telling us something” to which I said “I’m taking the stairs” and started to walk out. He pulled me back in, sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria — by this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic, he did not touch me until the lift reached the ground floor. Right as the doors were about to open, he patted my behind once more.
I walked out of the lift, went to the Grand Club and immediately informed IshanTankha that MrTejpal had tried to molest me again. Ishan said “Again? What the fuck is wrong with him?” He was completely disgusted and said once more that we should just resign immediately. As I was to accompany Mr De Niro to the dining area, I somehow composed myself. Mr De Niro was mobbed by fans – andI had to take him away from the main garden to the Capiz Bar. I was sitting at the Capiz Bar with Mr De Niro and his daughter when TiyaTejpal came there to join us.
This was the first time the two of us had really met since the incident of the previous night. Since I had moved to Mumbai about a year and a half ago, Tiya had grown to become one of my closest friends. She lives across the road from my house in Mumbai and barely a day had passed when the two of us did not meet or talk to each other constantly. She was sitting beside me, and Mr De Niro was absorbed in conversation with his daughter.I could not keep something of this magnitude from her. I told her she would hate me for what I was telling her – but that MrTejpal had tried to molest me on these two separate occasions. I said “He tried to shove his tongue down my throat and then took my panties off”, when Tiya replied saying “I saw him do this to a woman when I was thirteen, so it doesn’t surprise me anymore,” but she was clearly disgusted.
Tiya left the Capiz Bar right after this. In half an hour, Mr De Niro and Drena asked to be dropped back to their room. They were extremely upset at the day’s events because Mr De Niro had all but been assaulted by fans at the dinner table, and they asked me to convey this to MrTejpal. When I came down from Block 7, I found MrTejpal sitting at a table with several people and called him away from the table, but still in full view of everyone, so I could relay Mr De Niro’s message privately.
I said “Bob is really upset about tonight, he got mobbed really badly..” to which MrTejpal replied “I don’t give a fuck about Bob. How could you tell Tiya what happened?” I said “Tarun, I told you Tiya and I are close and what you did wasn’t okay, I had to tell her,” to which he said “She’s my daughter. Do you even understand what the word means? Just get away from me, I’m so fucking pissed off with you right now.”
I left from the spot crying, found Tiya outside her room in the main performance area and asked her what she had said to her father. She said “There was no other way. As soon as you told me I wished you hadn’t, but you can’t tell me what to say to him – I told him to keep it in his pants.” I said “I’m probably going to lose my job over this”, she agreed, but also said “It’ll be a bad phase but it’ll pass.” On this night as well, I left the Grand Hyatt and went to my hotel, found ShougatDasgupta, IshanTankha and G Vishnu and told them what had happened. I also called my boyfriend and told him that MrTejpal was aware of the fact that I wasn’t staying quiet, and that he was extremely angry that I had told his daughter. The next morning, I called my mother and told her everything that had happened. Everyone was most worried for my safety and advised me to leave Think as soon as possible — however since my day’s work involved me staying away from the Grand Hyatt and staying at a completely different part of Goa for the day with Mr De Niro and his daughter, I felt temporarily safe. At this time MrTejpal sent me the following texts from his personal number.
1. “I hope you told Tiya that it was just drunken banter, and nothing else”
To which I replied – “I told her we were both drunk” – because it was true that everyone had had a few drinks on the first night. But not the second, when he assaulted me minutes after I had reached the Grand Hyatt. However, this was the first time MrTejpal had said anything to me after lashing out at me the previous night, and I was still very afraid of him.
He then sent me a second message:
2. “And just banter, nothing else” – to which I did not reply, because there was no way what he had done to me could have been described as “banter”.
Sensing that I had clammed up at his attempt to sugar-coat what really happened, he sent me a third message:
3. “Why?? What’s happened??”
I did not reply to this message. Within minutes, he sent me a fourth message, one that convinced me he saw absolutely nothing wrong with what he had done, and was in fact now trying to shame me for talking to Tiya:
4. “I can’t believe u went and mentioned even the smallest thing to her. What an absence of any understanding of a parent child relationship.”
After this message, I made sure to stay away from MrTejpal except when we were in extremely public situations only – such as the Speakers Green Room at the Hyatt, or the lobby of the hotel. That evening as well, I steered completely clear of him. He made no mention of anything that had occurred the next day, and the only thought on my mind was to get Mr De Niro on his plane and leave Think. I had to speak to MrTejpal several times on Sunday the 9th of November to coordinate Mr De Niro’s travel plans, but in these calls he made no mention of anything that had occurred. Once I dropped Mr De Niro to the Goa Airport at 4.30 pm , Ihad no further contact with MrTejpal.
However, on 16.11.2013, MrTejpal messaged me a number of times
1. “Have you spoken to Tee? Is she Ok?”
To which I replied: “Why would she be ok about the fact that you sexually assaulted her best friend, that is me?”
2. “What’s with saying this awful stuff??”
To which I replied: Do not send me any messages. You are lying and you know that.
3. “Oh is that so? I cherished you like one of my best kids always, all these years; and because of one drunken banter you so easily say these awful things.
To which I replied : It was twice Tarun, not once and it was no banter. You did the most horrible things to me and I certainly was not drunk. I asked you to stop repeatedly.
4. “Oh so that’s what you told Tee. No wonder she’s so madly upset. Its ok. Am not going to contest anything with her. Will let time and my love heal what it can.”
5. “Don’t think I’ve been more saddened in the longest time”
I have no doubt that MrTejpal was trying to establish his innocence in a devious manner. If he needed to get in touch with his daughter, he could have done so anytime he desired, through his wife or daughter or nephew or anyone from his family without messaging me about her, or falsely claiming that all that happened was ‘a drunken banter’. This was no banter, it was most clearly sexual assault. As a reporter for Tehelka who writes on violence against women, I suddenly find myself in the horrific situation of discovering what it is like to be on the receiving end of this violence from a powerful man I once deeply admired and respected. I truly hope that the idea of Tehelka is still intact – and that you will conduct an inquiry into this matter at the earliest.