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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

#LACERATE: Tehelka Founder Tarun Tejpal resigns after sexual assault allegations

The founder-editor of the campaigning Indian weekly magazine ‘Tehelka’ has resigned after being accused of sexual assault and intimidation by a junior journalist at the award-winning publication. 

Tarun Tejpal said on Wednesday that he would be stepping down from his post for six months to “do the penance that lacerates” him, according to reports.

50-year-old Tejpal, one of the most respected journalists in India, has been accused of sexually assaulting the journalist on two occasions during an event organized by the magazine in Goa earlier this month. 

The ‘Think!’ democracy conclave had attracted a number of high-profile speakers including senior government ministers, business tycoons as well as stars from Bollywood and Hollywood.

The journalist had reportedly complained to Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury.

In a later email to Ms Chaudhury, Tejpal reportedly claimed "a bad lapse of judgment" and "an awful misreading of the situation" had led to an "unfortunate incident".

"I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further," he wrote in the mail. He also wrote that he had hurt "our own high principles" and that "atonement cannot be just words".

"I must do the penance that lacerates me. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months."

Announcing the decision to Tehelka's employees, Chaudhury said in her email that there had been an "unfortunate incident" and that Tejpal was recusing himself as the editor for the next six months even though he had extended an unconditional apology to the colleague involved.

The Indian Express cited an “inside source” at Tehelka as saying that Tejpal had assaulted the journalist inside a lift of the five-star resort where the conference was taking place and telling her that “submission” was the “only way for her to keep her job”.

Tejpal allegedly tried to assault her again the next day, again by pulling her into a lift at the same hotel, the woman is said to have alleged.

Tejpal’s decision to “recuse” himself however has caused widespread anger in India with many fellow journalists calling for a criminal investigation.

One well-known London-based journalist, who asked that she not be named, told the UKAsian: “The holier than thou editor of the publication did well to raise his hand in mea culpa but he can't expect that 'recusing' himself from his post for a brief period is 'atonement' enough.

The journalist, who began her career in Delhi, also commended the victim for having the courage to raise the allegations.

"(As) a journalist who has trained in that same Delhi circle (I know that) dealing with sexual undertones and overtures was a job requirement”, she said.

You simply had to develop a thick skin and ensure at least some of your personal boundaries were not crossed.  Speaking out against your boss takes courage and let's hope this case will give many others the courage to speak out."

Women’s rights campaigners also say it would be “meaningless” for Tejpal to “atone” for his crime and called for him to be dealt according to Indian law.

Tejpal, the former Managing Editor of ‘Outlook’ magazine, founded Tehelka (“Turbulence”, “Commotion”) in 2000 as an independent digital news platform.

The site soon came to prominence after a series of investigative pieces on government corruption as well as exposing a match-fixing ring working behind the Indian national cricket team in 2001.

Tehelka.com later morphed into a weekly magazine and earned a peerless reputation for its’ ‘Sting’ operations exposing everyone from corrupt government ministers to bent cricketers including, most famously, Indian fast bowler Manoj Prabhakar.

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