11 June 2016

Nope. Nada. Nyet. Nahin.

Forgiving powerful men is something people do very easily the world over. I’m thinking about this because of a recent column that came out about Tarun Tejpal suggesting that it’s time the public let bygones be bygones. (Real quote: “No doubt Tejpal had (note the past tense here as if we're already done with it) committed a grave error. One that pricked the bubble of his public image and gave his detractors ammunition to destroy him, but was there really need for such a vociferous dragging through the coals?”)

Answer: yes, yes there is a need, because even though there are people who call him out (rightly!) for being a sexual harasser, there are others who defend the man and claim that it wasn't his fault, he couldn't help it, how was he to know she wouldn't enjoy it? Because apparently, the concept of listening when someone says, “No” is not something people are familiar with. And so, I reiterate again and again, when I am at dinner parties and having polite conversation with people who sometimes make this argument, “Even if someone is buck naked in front of you and even if you've been engaged sexually in the past, when someone says no, you listen to what they're saying at face value.”

Coincidentally, the same week Tejpal shot back into public discussion, the victim of a rapist from Stanford posted an open letter to him addressed to the judge objecting to his short jail time (the judge felt that going to jail for too long would be harmful for the rapist). Buzzfeed picked it up and ran it and over the past week, I have seen it be shared over and over again. It has words of rage, words of despair and words of ultimately being resigned to the system. In another news article about the same case, the rapist's father said something along the lines of “why is he being punished for 20 minutes of action.” Women all over the world collectively laid their heads down on their desks and cried.

It smacks of the same thing as the Tejpal-grave-error statement. Why, people ask all the time, is someone being punished when that someone is actually a Really Nice Guy In Real Life and Didn't Mean It and Have You Thought About The Character Of The Girl Involved? Powerful men have access to the media, and especially in a country like India, the slight fact of a rape charge can easily be brushed aside against all the other things the person has to contribute to the world.

Take the case of former TERI head RK Pachauri, for instance. Not only did he have some powerful supporters in the country, but he also gave a full length, extremely sympathetic interview to The Guardian, where he went on about his poor health and also how his computer had totally been hacked, which is why all the loving emails from him to his victim.

Tejpal meanwhile has been out on bail, after serving seven months in jail, says a blog on Huffington Post, and the trial has not even begun, over two years later. Looks like his past-tense grave error is going to be forgiven and forgotten after all. But what do you expect? Woody Allen was accused of paedophilia and he’s still one of the best-loved directors in Hollywood. It’s the way the cookie crumbles, and none of it is on the victim's side.

(A version of this appeared in mydigitalfc.com as my weekly column)

(Some ideas here inspired by Kian's excellent article on the rapid rehabilitation of powerful men.)

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