Secular Hypocrisy: From Shah Bano to Tarun Tejpal
While proclaiming to uphold liberal values like women’s rights, secular intellectuals and the Congress become tongue-tied and even collaborators when unspeakable outrages are committed against women by those considered ‘secular’. This is the story from the Shah Bano affair to the more recent Imrana Outrage and now Tarun Tejpal’s dastardly behavior. Beyond legality, it shows total moral insensitivity.
A curious thing is happening following the exposure of the self-righteous hypocrite Tarun Tejpal as a shameless exploiter of a woman young enough to be his daughter, and actually the daughter of a former colleague. Usually loud mouthed secularists from the Congress spokesman Digvijay Singh to pseudo-secularists like Girish Karnad and U.R. Ananthamurthy are deafeningly silent. The nearest to a criticism came from the political lightweight Mani Shankar Aiyar who after a talk at the Bangalore Mount Carmel College issued a mild statement regretting Tejpal’s conduct—but no sympathy for the victim.
Actually Aiyar expressed no outrage but issued a convoluted statement regretting that “such a distinguished journalist should have allowed himself to indulge in such a criminal act because it seems to be that in terms of presenting the law, whatever he did or attempted to do constitutes violation of criminal law.”
This is more whitewash than condemnation of Tejpal’s dastardly act. It is obvious that the law of the land will and should follow its course, but the situation is far worse. A high profile reporter known for his self-righteous moralizing has been found to have engaged in shameless exploitation of a vulnerable woman young enough to be his daughter.
This pretentious scoundrel, hardly a ‘distinguished journalist’ has no morals, ethics or conscience. This is what Aiyar should have emphasized, not issue a feeble statement of the obvious that Tejpal’s act is a violation of criminal law and he should be tried. It is going to happen anyway with or without Aiyar’s statement. What anyone says is irrelevant.
There is more to the story. As soon as the story went public and the police got into the act, one of Tejpal’s close relatives had the nerve to visit the young victim’s mother and tried to intimidate her into not cooperating with the police investigation. This suggests there are powerful forces backing Tejpal and his sleazy outfit, Tehelka. It is worth noting that it was Tarun Tejpal who concocted the story that the 2002 Godhra train burning was in reaction to the passengers (mostly women and children) molesting a young Muslim girl working as tea vendor.
Being a molester of the young, it is no doubt easy for Tejpal to come up with a story like that. It is no secret that he has been a Modi-baiter ever since. But the real issue is the support he seems to enjoy in powerful ruling circles in New Delhi. Without such backing, Tejpal’s unnamed relative would not have dared go to the victim’s mother and threaten her, especially when a criminal case was in the offing. Aiyar’s statement that all but sympathizes with Tejpal for his predicament suggests the same.
Aiyar is a political nobody; there must be voices above him directing him. It is clear that Tejpal and his sponsors are more worried about the fallout of this episode than the hurt and injustice suffered by the victim. This bogus crusader who went on to judge himself and sentence himself to six months vacation must have some high ups in Delhi worried to go by the deafening silence in secular circles.
The episode, horrible in itself is only the latest in an anti-woman pattern that goes back more than twenty years. For all their liberal shouting, when it clashes with political expediency, the Congress and its secular allies have abandoned the woman victim to the wolves while choosing to appease the reactionary elements. This is exactly what Rajiv Gandhi did when Shah Bano won her case in the Supreme Court.
More recently, there was the notorious Imrana episode. It should have been a sensation but it remains all but forgotten. Here is a recollection it. A few years ago, when Imrana, a young Muslim woman was raped by her father-in-law, a self-appointed body calling itself All India Muslim Personal Law (AIMPLB) Board issued a ruling that the rape had made the victim Imrana ‘haram’ (impure) and her marriage to her husband therefore stood annulled— this even though the wronged husband was prepared to take back his wife.
To add insult to injury, the AIMPLB directed Imrana to leave her husband and live as one of her rapist father-in-law’s wives! There were protests, and Salman Rushdie, himself a victim of religious persecution denounced it in an article in the New York Times denouncing Islamic courts and the Shariat Law. In the midst of this storm, Sonia Gandhi refused to intervene or even condemn this outrage. Instead, she directed her government’s law minister H.R. Bharadwaj to issue a statement exonerating the Muslim personal Law Board— that the government could not “interfere” in a religious matter (by enforcing the law of the land).
So it was vote bank over justice and the honor of a woman. It is likely to be same here—the ‘secular’ forces will take the most politically expedient course, as it did from Shah Bano to Imrana. Don’t expect morality or decency from this crowd. They have neither: if they did, they wouldn’t have associated with a sleaze ball like Tarun Tejpal in the first place.
The same goes for ‘intellectuals like Anathamurthy, Girish Karnad, etc. Self promotion in the name of protecting Tipu Sultan’s image is more important than protecting the honor and justice of women.