Amid growing cries by activists, media and politicians to launch a criminal investigation, the editor of a prominent Indian investigative magazine was questioned by police this weekend over allegations that he sexually assaulted a young reporter.
Tarun Tejpal, the editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, is accused of sexual assault and rape and is being investigated by police in the state of Goa, where the incident allegedly took place in early November, during an event hosted by the magazine.
The event, called Think Fest, featured actor Robert De Niro and Bollywood stalwart Amitabh Bachchan, as well as rape survivors.
During a press conference on Saturday, Kishan Kumar, the director-general of police in Goa, declined to say whether Mr. Tejpal would be arrested. “Let us leave it to the investigating officers,” he said.
Sexual assault has become an explosive issue in India, which has seen widespread protests over the past year following the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi. Activists have been critical of attitudes about workplace harassment, saying that though the law states that workplaces must have committees to investigate complaints, few companies do so.
“There is an excellent set of laws, but it has been implemented in very few places,” activist Kavita Krishna said. “Instead there is rampant, brazen confidence that no one is going to complain. There is always a sense of impunity, power and all that.”
Laws were updated in April to include tougher punishment for those who commit crimes against women, including sexual harassment of women at work. Even with the revised laws, however, conviction rates remain low and sexual assault cases can drag on for years, said Soumya Bhowmik, a consultant lawyer on gender justice with the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.
“The country has failed its women over and over again,” Mr. Bhowmik said. “You can’t secure dignity for women in the workplace in a country that does not hold women in high regard. Anyone who wants to come forward is afraid the case will be delayed, they will be harassed.”
Over the weekend, a special investigating task force set up by Mr. Kumar travelled to Delhi to interrogate three journalists from the magazine and its managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury.
Ms. Chaudhury has been criticized for not filing a police report following a complaint by the young reporter about the alleged assault. Instead, she circulated an apology from Mr. Tejpal to the newsroom that called it an “untoward incident.”
The incident came to light Wednesday when a series of e-mails were leaked, including the apology by Mr. Tejpal with the subject line, “Atonement,” in which he said he was stepping down from his position for six months. He had apologized to the journalist for his “misconduct,” he said, and added his time away was to “do the penance that lacerates me.”
The alleged sexual assault apparently took place twice over a period of two days at a five-star resort in Goa. Mr. Tejpal he allegedly told the journalist in a text, “Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job.”
In a statement to the press Sunday, the young journalist said she feared “intimidation and harassment” after she said someone from Mr. Tejpal’s family had visited her mother to ask her about the young reporter’s demands.
Indian law prohibits the disclosure of names and identities of victims of sexual assault.
An official preliminary inquiry into allegations was filed by the Goa police in order to start the investigation. The young woman has yet to file a criminal complaint.