It takes a social media outrage to impart required sense to the country’s biggest English newspaper, Times Of India (TOI). The popular daily has now dropped the name of Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal from the literary festival organized by the Times of India, following massive criticism on social media for inviting the rape-accused editor.
Festival director Bachi Karkaria tweeted about the change in decision:
We have asked Tarun Tejpal to drop out of the TOI Litfest. We’ve got a great program & we don’t want it hijacked by extraneous noise.
— bachi karkaria (@bachikarkaria) November 24, 2021
TOI invites Tarun Tejpal to the literary festival
Earlier in the day, all hell broke out on social media specially on Twitter after news came in that Tarun - who is out on bail right now - was invited by the Times Group to be their guest on two occasions at the Times Literary Festival in Mumbai next month. On day one, he was to moderate a session in which senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani will discuss his memoirs “A Rebel.” On day two, he was to be a part of a panelist in a session named “The Tyranny of Power” along with Mani Shankar Aiyar, Basharat Peer with Manu Joseph moderating. Ironically, the theme of the festival this year is “Power as Hero and Villain.”
It appeared as if life was getting back to normal for the ex-editor of Tehelka who was taken to court by a woman colleague exactly a year ago on the grounds of rape. In fact it was the same social media that stood by the vicitm when Tarun and his trusted colleagues in the publication were trying to seal the news under the pretext of internal matters. The media house ignored the Supreme Court-mandated Sexual Harassment Committees as per the 1997 Vishakha judgement of the apex court.
Following a drama, Tarun was arrested for the incident that happened during a Tehelka event at a hotel in Goa. However, he was granted bail from the Supreme Court after being behind bars for eight months. Tarun, who had earlier appeared on the Idea of India Conclave through video link, became an instant talking point for being invited to the Times literary festival.
Earlier in the day, the man had the support from his quarters too. In an email message to Scroll, festival director Bachi Karkaria said that the panel is part of the event’s overarching theme of Power as Hero and Villain. “Tarun’s Masques deals precisely with this,” she explained. “The panel has nothing to do with his personal case. We are aware that this issue is sub judice, Tarun is not convicted and is out on bail. The case is not going to form any part of the discussion, and we have always found Tarun to be an articulate panelist.”
Support also came from Mani Shankar Aiyar who was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying he would attend the panel despite the objections. “People do have very strong views on this, so I’m not surprised they have concerns. The man is under indictment, but he has the right to defend himself and while he’s on bail, there are no restrictions on where he can appear.”
Strong objection against Tarun’s invite
While a certain section of the media is ready to park Tarun’s personal life aside and move on, social media specifically Twitter, witnessed a backlash over the invitation sent by TOI. Tarun Tejpal has been trending on top of Twitter Trends from the start of the day, leading to a growing discussion on whether he should be invited by TOI or are we as a society becoming hypocrites by shaming one and leaving other guilty popular faces.
Listed below are some of the tweets capturing peoples’ sentiments:
Arnab Goswani raged nonstop against Tarun Tejpal. He’ll share space with him at #TimesLitFest. He so clever, @timesnow viewers such idiots. — Kanchan Gupta (@KanchanGupta) November 23, 2021
Have we forgotten: Tarun Tejpal to re-emerge via a lit fest in #Mumbai http://t.co/8VMZ18Xlmh … #MediaInContext
— Chitra Subramaniam (@chitraSD) November 23, 2021
Inviting Tarun Tejpal for litfest once again reveals @timesofindia‘s character as earlier. #hypocrisy @anilkohli54 pic.twitter.com/3fln87xs7d
— Onkar Pandey (@pandey_onkar) November 22, 2021
What? Is this some kind of a sick joke? Tarun Tejpal is on a panel of #ToiLitFest? This is the “Liberal” definition of feminism & justice? — Smita Barooah (@smitabarooah) November 22, 2021
Amazing that in India you can be on trial for rape, like Tarun Tejpal, and even while out on bail you can be on the panel of a ‘lit fest’ ! — HindolSengupta (@HindolSengupta) November 22, 2021
Ironically Tarun Tejpal is speaking on the “Tyranny of Power” a subject former Tehelka employees surely know a lot about. Wow.
— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) November 22, 2021
Tarun Tejpal invited to litfest and soon life will be normal. Shoma Chaudhury should also restart tweeting. All is forgotten mam, come back.
— Rahul Roushan (@rahulroushan) November 22, 2021
TOI withdraws Tarun’s invite
With the growing social media outrage and continuous coverage by rival news portals, some sense prevailed and Times of India dropped Tarun’s name from the invite list. After Bachi Karkaria’s tweet, she and her co-director Namita Devidayal later put out this statement:
“We have regretfully withdrawn our invitation to Tarun Tejpal to participate in The Times Of India Litfest, Dec 5-7,2014, While there was never a question of a subjudice case being discussed at any of its forums, the reaction to his inclusion suggests that our litfest was in danger of being overwhelmed by an extraneous issue. A great deal of thought and effort went into putting together intellectually stimulating topics and panelists, and we did not want any distractions from either. All these years we have managed to be about discussion not noise, and we’d like to keep it that way for the sake of our acclaimed participants and engaged audiences.”
But the change in stance happened only after social media outrage and as guests to the literary festival started pulling out. Journalist Swapan Dasgupta was one of them who had earlier withdrawn from the festival to protest the decision to include Tarun.
TimesLitFest has a right to draw up its own guest list. I have the right to stay away on grounds I’ll be a misfit. Have communicated this.
— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) November 23, 2021
Scroll reports that several other guests also expressed their dismay in private with the organizers at the decision to have Tejpal among the panelists.
The “extraneous noise” the event and its organizers wanted to stay away from, originated from their act of inviting a man who is a literary scholar but right now under the cloud of rape allegations and charges. Had the organizers brainstormed better, there wouldn’t be any ‘extraneous noise’. Thanks to social media for imparting the much-needed sense!
Image credit: Newslaundry