23 Nov 2013

A Comparison of Sexual Assaults – Bireshwar Choudhury

While the whole nation follows the discussion on the Tarun Tejpal sex scandal, have the Ashramites forgotten that far more serious incidents have happened at Sri Aurobindo Ashram? Or will they still pretend like Manoj Das Gupta (the Managing Trustee) that nothing untoward has ever happened in the Ashram? I quote below the statements of two victims of alleged sexual assault: (1) that of the young Tehelka lady reporter who accused the chief editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, of sexually assaulting her, which led to an unconditional apology by him and the decision to recuse himself for the next six months; and (2) that of a young Oriya lady who was molested by one Mukesh Shah in one of the guest houses of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The emotionally shattered victim went weeping to the concerned authorities of the Ashram, but no action was taken on Mukesh Shah because he happened to be one of the key henchmen of the Trustees. Instead the lady was told by the Managing Trustee to either bear with or concede to the sexual solicitations of the Guest House manager or to go back to her native place, because this was the unalterable way of life at the Ashram!!! I suppose this is one of the finest examples of Manoj Das Gupta’s remarkable administration of the Ashram Trust!

The comparison between the two statements below is striking. In fact, the sexual offence of Mukesh Shah is far more serious than the alleged sexual misconduct of Tarun Tejpal.


Letter of the victim regarding the alleged sexual assault of Tarun Tejpal:

Dear Shoma,

It is extremely painful for me to write this email to you – I have struggled with finding an easier way to say it, but there isn’t one. The editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week. From the very first moment, I wanted to call you, or find you and tell you what he had done to me – but given how absorbed you were at Think; preparing for and conducting sessions, and the fact that it was impossible for the two of us to get even a minute alone together, I could not. To add to this, I had to process the fact that it was Tarun who molested me — my father’s ex colleague and friend, Tiya’s dad, and someone I had so deeply respected and admired for so many years.

Both times, I returned to my room in a completely distraught condition, trembling and crying. I went straight to Shougat and Ishan’s room, where I called G Vishnu and told them what had been done to me. (All three of them are copied on this email. You can contact them for any clarifications you see necessary). The second time he molested me, I even told Tiya what happened. When he heard I’d told Tiya (she confronted him), he lashed out at me, and I became truly terrified of what he would do. I avoided him in all situations except in rooms full of people, until I checked out of Think on Sunday.

As of Saturday evening, he sent me text messages insinuating that I misconstrued “a drunken banter”. That is not what happened. Banter does not involve forcing yourself on someone, trying to disrobe them, and penetrate them with your fingers despite them pleading for you to stop. [emphasis added] As you read through the details of what happened in the attachment to this mail, I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you — and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal and an acknowledgement of the same to be circulated through the organization. It cannot be considered acceptable for him to treat a female employee in this way.


Extract of the young Oriya lady's letter regarding the sexual assault of Mukesh Shah on her in an Ashram Guest House:

Those days the canteen work continued till late night. On 2.5.2010 night at 10.00 pm, I was still working at the canteen when the manager came to see me and told me to go to my room. I mentioned that the work was not yet over. He mentioned that I should not strain so much and the canteen workers have shift duty and they can manage without me. Moreover I had to start my duties early in the mornings. Following his advice, I retired into my room. After a short while at 10.15 pm I heard a knock on my door. Thinking that it was a canteen worker who had come to ask for something or to hand over the keys, I opened the door. Mukesh Shah was standing there. He quickly pushed aside the door and slipped into the room and bolted the door behind him. He then told me to draw the curtains of the windows. I was a little surprised but went to draw the curtains. As I was drawing the curtains, from he came behind and embraced me, turned my face towards him and kissed me hard. Then holding my hands he said, "I am sorry for scolding you today. I don't like to see you weeping.'' Then holding me in an embrace, he started caressing my belly and touched my breasts.  He then said, "You are not a worker of the Guest House, I didn't  bring you into the Guest House as a worker, but for myself. I love you so much. The manager of the Guest House loves you." Still caressing my belly he said, "You don't feel anything? You don't have any desires rising in you? Most girls feel excited when their stomach is touched.'' He then started pulling at my sari. I stood dazed, I did not react, I don't know why, but maybe because I was never exposed to this type of behaviour from anyone. He then said, "You are very lucky that the manager loves you'' and lifted my sari and touched me everywhere. I suddenly said, "Please stop. I have my ladies problem.'' He stopped, but continued speaking to me in a soft tone. "I love you, but I will not come to your room. You should come to my room.'' I said, “I don't love you, and your girl-friend goes to your room.'' He said, "No she goes to my room for work.'' Then holding me at the belly he said, "We will be friends, have sex, go to hotels. Don't worry, everything will be all right and no one will know. I have medicine for your ladies problem, you come to my room and take it.'' Saying this he hurriedly left my room and closed the door softly. [emphasis added]

Of late the nation is waking up to fight rape and sexual misconduct perpetrated by people in power and high positions. The English and regional media have been of great help in this self-cleansing process, but will the media ever come to the rescue of the poor victims of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust such as the young Oriya lady mentioned above and a number of other lady victims who have never dared to open their mouths due to the fear of retribution and revenge by the Trustees and their henchmen?

Comment by Shubhamastu:
 

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