Like millions of other Indians, I have been a great admirer of Tehelka right from its inception when it took on the mighty political powers – at their peak. I had been thinking about writing this for the last couple of months. To be precise, since the news of Tarun Tejpal’s misbehavior with a female colleague was made public. But the passions in mainstream media were running high, for understandable reasons! So even a brief and objective piece of writing in favor of Tehelka or its founders would not be well received.
This note is neither to defend nor to prosecute Tarun Tejpal. Every human is a combination of certain strengths and weaknesses. Tarun’s life of exemplary courage, honesty and passion for justice is for all of us to see. At the same time, he is alleged to have demonstrated the weaker side of human nature (male) by forcing himself upon a junior female colleague. The case is sub-judiced. Both parties have a right to present their case and seek judgment in their favor. Every story has two sides. Let the judiciary decide exactly who did what. And who is guilty, who is innocent.
Prior to this unfortunate incident, throughout Tehelka’s unusual journey, its fearless founders and a breed of bold journalists never took dictations from the high and mighty. They took enormous personal risks, went to great lengths for simply gathering, analyzing and presenting the truth most of the time (although once I caught Kunal Majumder making factual misrepresentation in an article about Islamic Bank of Bangladesh). This style of journalism earned them great respect and many powerless admirers like me, but also powerful enemies across the country. Enemies, because their communal ideologies and corrupt and criminal practices were what Tehelka has been opposed to and consistently challenging. In Tarun’s fatal mistake – assuming he forcefully did what he is accused of – they found a super-golden opportunity to pounce on the entire institution called Tehelka. They are not interested in seeing only Tarun finished. Due to his mistake, they simply want to demolish a wonderful institution that Tarun, Shoma and the entire team have meticulously built, brick-by-brick, over a period of time.
I am not privy to the internal functioning of Tehelka: whether the work culture is open, professional or financially rewarding. But if its growth and success is any indication, then I guess the answers to all these must be yes. In that case, there is absolutely no reason for its committed and top-tier journalists to jump the ship, when the ship itself needed them most. Let the captain of the ship face justice in due course. But the ship itself must sail on. India needs honest and vibrant media outlets like Tehelka. If it goes down, millions of hopes and aspirations will go down with it. Because Tehelka is not just a news magazine. It is rather an idea that defines fair and responsible journalism. And that is pivotal for a secular democracy that India ought to be.
Let not the corrupt, the criminals and the killers of innocent Indians have the last laugh. Every single member individually and the entire team of Tehelka collectively owes this to the nation. For the first time since independence, India is experiencing mild, very mild winds of positive political and social change. The coming months and years, all of a sudden, appear full of hope and promise. That is the type of India Tehelka’s brave and competent team have helped lay the foundation for. When the dream of a corruption-free, communalism-free and crime-free India appears to be turning into a reality (God willing), institutions like Tehelka must be strengthened and not abandoned. If we truly believe in an idea or a project, then it must be improved and strengthened from within, at all cost. Running away from that, even if the big boss is guilty of a wrongdoing or for any other reason, is not advisable. This is my one-and-only expectation from journalist friends.
Image Source: Tarun Tejpal