PANAJI, India – The editor of an Indian magazine known for exposing abuses of power faced arrest Saturday after a court rejected his bail plea in a sexual assault case that has fueled fresh outrage over the treatment of women in India.
Judge Anuja Prabhudesai's order rejecting bail cleared the way for the arrest of Tarun Tejpal, editor of Tehelka magazine.
The allegations against Tejpal by a female colleague have touched a nerve in part because he is the face of a publication that has pushed Indian society to vanquish corruption and confront the scourge of sexual violence.
The journalist alleged that Tejpal cornered her in a hotel elevator and assaulted her twice, on Nov. 7 and 8. Formal charges could be filed when the investigation is complete.
Tejpal was sitting in the office of crime branch of the state police when the court order came. His arrest is imminent.
"We are already cooperating with the police in investigation," said Geeta Luthra, Tejpal's attorney. Details of the court order were not immediately known.
Indian media have chronicled every turn in the Tejpal case, which is playing out through leaked emails, police reports and a resignation letter in which the accuser says she is enduring "intimidation, character assassination and slander."
"Tehelka's Editor-in-Chief Tarun Tejpal sexually molested me on two occasions in November this year," the woman said in the resignation letter, which was printed in India media. "I am deeply traumatized by the lack of support offered by the organization."
On Friday, the woman, whose name and job title have not been made public, released a statement saying she was disturbed that her complaint had been described by some as a political gimmick. "(I)n this case, the law is clear: what Mr. Tejpal did to me falls within the legal definition of rape."
Tejpal came under investigation after the woman told the magazine's managing editor about the alleged assault. The woman had been working at Tehelka Thinkfest, the magazine's annual conference at a coastal hotel resort in Goa, where her duties involved escorting Robert De Niro and his daughter to events.
A detailed account of the alleged attack, apparently written by the accuser, was leaked to the media and posted on social media last week. The police used that email as part of their investigation.
As the allegations became public, Tejpal apologized for "a bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation" and said he was stepping down for six months, according to a staff email widely circulated in Indian media.
But his words, seen to be downplaying the case, only fueled public outrage. Tejpal then backpedaled and described the sexual encounter as consensual and fleeting.
On Monday, the accuser resigned and criticized the magazine. She said it over the years had defended women's rights and spoken out harshly against the culture of blaming the victim.
"Given the sequence of events since the 7th of November, it is not just Mr. Tejpal who has failed me as an employer — but Tehelka that has failed women, employees, journalists and feminists collectively," she wrote in the resignation letter.
Another six senior magazine staff members have since resigned, including the managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury, who said Thursday she was leaving to spare the publication from being tarnished any further. Chaudhury apologized for lapses in handling the woman's allegations of sexual assault, but denied any role in a cover-up.
"Tehelka," which means upheaval or sensation in Hindi, is a weekly investigative magazine closely followed by Indian journalists and the English-speaking elite. Using sting operations and bruising exposes, the magazine has taken aim at high-level corruption in India. In one of the most famous examples, Tehelka in 2001 showed images of senior politicians from then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's coalition receiving cash from journalists posing as defense contractors.
The report led to the resignation of the defense minister and president of the then-governing Bharatiya Janata Party.