The statement of victim’s colleague prima facie corroborates her version

Rejecting Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal's anticipatory bail plea, District and Sessions Court, Panaji, on Saturday held that the material on record prima facie indicate that he is involved in committing acts which constitute offences of custodial rape and outraging the modesty of the woman.

“The statement of the victim and the documents in the form of emails, etc., details of which need not be reproduced here, prima facie indicate that the applicant, who was her mentor and father figure, had not only outraged her modesty but had misused his position, betrayed her trust and violated her body,” District and Sessions Judge Anuja Prabhudesai observed in her 25-page order.

Referring to various judgments of the Supreme Court, Ms. Prabhudesai said the question for her determination was whether Mr. Tejpal is entitled to bail. “The answer to which in my considered view is nothing but in the negative,” she said.

The material on record, prima facie, indicated that on November 18, a week after the Think Fest event in a hotel in Goa, the victim had sent an email complaint to the Managing Editor of Tehelka, complaining of sexual assault by Mr. Tejpal on November 7 and 8 in the hotel lift.

The judge said though there was delay in reporting the matter to the Managing Editor, it was not material at this stage. “It has to be borne in mind that delay in lodging the report is not necessarily fatal and can always be explained. The yardstick of unexplained delay in filing an FIR, which usually goes in favour of the accused, cannot be applied in cases involving sexual offences.”

Mental trauma

“The victims of such crime undergo physical as well as mental trauma and humiliation. Their reputation, dignity, honour, future prospects and financial security are at stake and often the victims and their family members are subjected to social ridicule,” the order stated and said, “These circumstances often lead to delay in reporting the incident.....Consequently, in my considered view, the veracity of the complainant or the statement of the victim cannot be doubted on the ground of delay,” the judge said.

The Court observed that the statements of the colleague of the victim, prima facie indicated that she had informed them about the incident on the same day. “Though such corroboration is not strictly necessary, the statement of her colleague prima facie corroborates her version, which at this stage need not be sieved, sifted, weighed and appreciated.”

The judge said the email correspondence on record prima facie indicated that Mr. Tejpal had not disputed the incident. Its initial correspondence further indicated that he was aware that the victim was not a consenting party but it was only at a later stage that he had changed his version, apparently for obvious reasons.

“Under the circumstances, the applicant cannot be heard to say that the subsequent conduct of the victim is contrary to the allegations made in the complaint to the Managing Editor and the insinuations that the victim was a consenting party or that the alleged act was only a light-hearted bantering cannot be accepted,” she said.

“Thus, the material on record prima facie indicates that the applicant is involved in committing acts which constitute offences under the IPC Section 354A [outraging the modesty of a woman] and 376 (2) (K) [custodial rape],” the judge said.

The court said the offence under IPC Section 354A is punishable with imprisonment of seven years whereas the offence under the IPC Section 376(2) (K) is punishable with imprisonment which can extend to life.

“This, being the case, there can be no dispute that the offences alleged are of serious nature. The gravity of the offence, though not the sole criteria, is one of the essential factors, which would disentitle the applicant for bail,” the judge said.

“Success in such interrogation would elude if the suspected person knows that he is well protected and insulated by a pre-arrest bail order during the time he is interrogated. It is held that very often that interrogation in such condition would reduce to a mere ritual.”

No political pressure

The judge rejected the defence contention that Tejpal was being prosecuted at the behest of persons with vested interest or due to political pressure, saying it had no merit.

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