Before Tejpal and After Tejpal by Priya Mirchandani

Seconds later, a silky voice answered and I told her what was on my mind. ‘

I understand you can help me set up an hour of good chat,’ I said.
‘Sure, honey. What do you have in mind?’
‘I’d like to discuss Melville.’
‘Moby Dick, or the shorter novels?’
‘What’s the difference?’
‘The price. That’s all. Symbolism’s extra.’
‘What’ll it run me?’
‘Fifty, maybe a hundred, for Moby Dick. You want a comparative discussion — Melville and Hawthorne? That could be arranged fora hundred.’
The dough’s fine,’ I told her and gave her the number of a room at the Plaza.
‘You want a blonde or a brunette?’
‘Surprise me,’ I said, and hung up.

— Excerpt from The Whore of Mensa by Woody Allen

There are three kinds of men on this planet: those who are unabashed about their lust for women; those who lust for men; and lastly, superior beings who claim to have trained their refined intellect to take over the reins from their not so-refined hormones. The last variety is fairly evolved, calls itself the sapio sexuals, aroused primarily by intelligence (while the rest of us dumb mortals feed off stupidity). A shapely breast can never be the object of their lust. But, a heated discussion on Ezra Pound can hit the spot, and how.

The character in Woody Allen’s brilliant story, The Whore of Mensa, is an intellectually unfulfilled man who has one night stands with women who can fulfill the cerebral needs his wife can’t. It is irrelevant that the man is sated only by paying for and owning the woman’s intellect, even if for an hour, and doing with it as he pleases. While most men feel this story redeems the one-track-mind reputation they’ve notched up, to me, it simply reiterates the innate masculine need to overpower and control. Isn’t there more to an individual than his or her libido, intellectual or sexual?

Profile: male professional, 30 to 55; marital status: not relevant. Symptoms vary from sudden nervousness around the opposite sex, inability to hold eye contact with female colleagues and clients, compulsive need to keep hands occupied with props such as cell phones, cigarettes, pencils or coffee mugs. And, an almost delirious repetition of, “This is not intended as an inappropriate overture. If you find it offensive, I apologise. It will never happen again. Please, don’t sue me,” accompanying every banal gesture made around a woman.

Yup, Disclaimeritis is raging through the corridors and cabins of urban India. The good news is that frisky men with roving eyes and wandering hands will soon be the dinosaurs of the professional world. The not-so-good news is that it isn’t just the crude cabinet minister or misogynistic government servant who’s talking about reviewing his HR brief. Erudite CEOs of multinationals, known for their erstwhile keen sense of judgment and fair play, are re-evaluating, too. The risk factor on female human resource investment has just shot up exponentially post the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, particularly after a suave CEO shed his urbane skin and flashed us with his reptilian brain.

The rumblings are palpable. It’s not so much about the new female hires, they claim, as about the many males who pre-exist in the professional environment. “Give our boys a little time to familiarise themselves with what is now kosher and what is not.” This could take a while, ladies. Should we stash away our well-endowed resumes and start baking cupcakes? I don’t have to froth at the mouth to know how long, arduous and soul-sapping a journey it’s been for us to get within touching distance of that glass ceiling. Question is, is it all going to be for naught just because you gentlemen are incapable of keeping it in your pants?

In fact, the recent brazen breach by Tarun Tejpal has resulted in the drawing up of a whole new timeline in the man-woman dynamic in India, i.e., Before Tejpal (BT) and After Tejpal (AT). While BT was clearly a time of free flowing testosterone, zero risk and, therefore, zero reflection in the male mind scape, AT is attempting to usher in restraint, gender appropriateness, and all the stuff that mama hoped would take root in your mind, but didn’t quite.

Ah yes, distractions. So difficult to keep it together when you keep getting wracked with Guilty by Gucci, every time that lissome intern walks past. How are you to keep your mind on P&L when the M&S lingerie haul is being discussed so ardently within earshot? Not easy, we get it. Maybe, you’d prefer a whimpering infant pawing at your chest demanding lunch, as you attempt to finish the last two slides in your presentation. Or, perhaps, you’d like to plan the homicide of that feckless maid who bails out of babysitting the very evening you have to play host to the team from London headquarters.

Such a bummer. We girls were just about getting comfortable in those big boardroom chairs and those sky-high barstools, and bam, we’re being yanked off, right back to square one, at least mentally, if not yet, physically. So, here we are again, girls and boys, back in the old schoolyard, sworn enemies who can’t seem to see beyond our nu-nus and pee-pees. Rumour is that somewhere north of the pelvis, lies a throbbing bundle of nerves that’s the real McCoy. It’s the potent stuff that makes me uniquely me, and you singularly you. The sapio sexuals we spoke of earlier seem to know it, but, I’m not sure they’ve quite got it yet.

Because the cerebrum knows no gender. The intellect, therefore, becomes our most abiding personal signature. The next time you high-five or air-punch that dude who totally gets you because it’s a guy thing, you may want to double check if there’s a sell-by date on his testosterone reserves. Aw, am I being a bitch?

The issue simply boils down to whether men and women can work together without turning the office space into a battlefield, or, a bonkfest? Undoubtedly, we’ve been here several times. Yet, intriguingly, it’s like laying snakes and ladders, a case of climb-sting-slide in perpetual motion. Ouroboros, in a linear format.

Can a man appreciate a woman for her skills as a professional, her intellect as an individual and her qualities as a human being without being influenced by her pheromones? And, vice-versa, with women? Since corporates and marriages are still alive, despite the fact that most extramarital affairs happen at work, I’ll say that we can function without tearing each others clothes or heads off, by and large.

It’s interesting that most, or, all sexual harassment cases in the media glare invariably involve married men. Do single men not feel the need their attached brothers do to harass? Or, do their overtures not qualify as harassment because they are unattached, and, therefore, potentially available to the women they come on to? Ladies, are we labeling an overture depending on the marital status of the individual making it?

The law has woken up a bit late and gone into overdrive on this one, leaving swathes of irate men fuming all over the country. But, boys, you know what? Like marriage, nothing’s perfect. We’ve put up with 40 years of being groped in trains and buses, accepted it as a given, even taught our daughters the fine art of elbowing, just as our mothers taught us. Give us a break now. Can and will the new rape law be abused? Possibly. Just like every other law can potentially be.

Maybe, it’s time for us women to take a leaf or two from you, sit with our legs spread wide apart, scratch our privates in public, breastfeed the baby on an as-is where-is basis, without a care in the world. And, for those men who have had to lump their share of lascivious female bosses on their way to becoming CEO, I can only say, make some noise, desi boys. Speak up and be heard. It may take about a hundred years, but, don’t you lose hope. We’ll be right behind you, groping those worked-out glutes, having the last law.

(Reprinted with permission from Man’s World magazine; originally published January 2014)

We Are All Tarun Tejpal

As an Indian man, I feel we have let our daughters, sisters, mothers, nieces, aunts, wives and grandmothers down. By staying silent, we have failed to be men. But rather than putting on our burkhas and hiding from this ugly truth, we must fix these medieval attitudes by raising our voices and fighting for the rights of women in our society, and in the workplace.

Sexism, harassment and rape exist in all cultures, as do sexual abuse based on power and position. But in India the problem of inequality is much more deeply rooted in our culture and society. It begins at birth, when boys are considered prized possessions while girls are often discarded and aborted because they are seen as burdens on families. The practice of Sati may have been abolished but the attitudes surrounding the practice are still prevalent today. We are taught that women are inferior to men; that they are weaker and dependent on men for everything. It is almost as if we are not so subtly told that they are our property, particularly if we are married to them or if they work for us. And it is this attitude among men that prevails, even among the most educated, accomplished and erudite amongst us. Think about the basic fact that when you and I walk around the streets of any city in India, board a train or a bus, as men we NEVER feel uncomfortable or fear for our safety. Men do not have to deal with being stared at to the point of feeling uncomfortable or being whistled at or even being physically violated by someone touching our buttocks or grabbing our penis. Men do not have to deal with these personal abuses. As a man we can dress how we want, smoke, drink and curse openly, in public, and without any fear or repercussion – but what happens when a woman does the same thing? We immediately attach a label to her; if she seems drunk we say she is a loose woman. If a woman curses, we think it unladylike behaviour or again associate her with having loose morals. Are we not all guilty of thinking this at one time or another, even if not acting on it?

Tarun Tejpal was a crusader for the little people. He fought for those who had been wronged in our society, from taking down corrupt politicians to championing women’s rights. This is a man who preached moral values and claimed to hold himself to higher principles and beliefs. Yet, it is now very clear that when it really comes down to understanding what women’s rights encompasses and true equality among the sexes, he is really no better than the men on that Delhi bus that raped and killed Jyoti Singh Pandey. We can no longer pretend that rape and sexual harassment are confined to poor slum dwellers or the non-educated. Tarun Tejpal is not only considered a well-educated, society intellectual but part of the wealthy elite of our country. People will argue that I am being harsh to equate Tejpal with the animals on that Delhi bus, but the truth is that his attitude and lack of respect for a woman is no different from the uneducated man on the street. Granted men like him do not stand on street corners eve teasing every woman that walks by but his actions in the end lead to exactly the same outcome; that of humiliating, disrespecting, disempowering and abusing a woman. Perhaps, his actions are worse because at least on the streets women know to have their guard up, as opposed to the perceived safety of their workplace.

What Mr. Tejpal did was violate a sacred trust between an employer and employee. Mr. Tejpal has already admitted to as much in his email correspondences with the woman. An innocent man does not say things like; “My punishment has already been upon me, and will probably last till my last day.” Or “I must do the penance that lacerates me.” That he is guilty of sexually assaulting this woman is not in doubt, but I suspect he has done the same or worse to many other women, who have yet to speak out. It is their silence that has emboldened him and deluded him into believing that he has done nothing wrong. Mr. Tejpal, like Moishe Katsav and many other men with great power, begin to delude themselves into thinking that they can define their on their own moral code. If you read the victim’s letter to Shoma Chaudhury (source: “The complete email trail of the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case” – IBN Live), and then read Mr. Tejpal’s response to her saying things like – “I had no idea that you were upset, or felt I had been even remotely non-consensual” – you will begin to see how deluded men like him can become. Powerful men are used to getting their way, all the time, and not accustomed to hearing the word NO. I think men like Tejpal begin to believe that because of the great good they have done in society, it somehow forgives them their trespasses, and that they can conduct themselves in a way that does not apply to the rest of us mere mortals (or perhaps they are just sociopaths).

What should trouble us more in this instance is that there are still many people (including a number of women) who are trying to argue Mr. Tejpal’s defense by questioning the victim’s motivations. Even after it is clear that this is not some attempt to malign his reputation or a political smear campaign, as Mr. Tejpal now claims. Are we all programmed to automatically give the benefit of the doubt to the rich and powerful and mistrust the word of a nobody? Perhaps this is what predators like Mr. Tejpal count on. They pick on victims they believe are weak and who will not fight back or speak out. And if the victim does say something, then people like Mr. Tejpal believe it will be easy to discredit them because his word will hold more sway over a nameless, faceless person. However, this time both victim and her predator have acknowledged the events transpired and Mr. Tejpal even admits to “twice attempting “a sexual liaison” despite the reporter’s “clear reluctance.” (source: “Tarun Tejpal’s informal apology” – NDTV). This issue also goes back to the root of the problem of inequality in India. What can we expect when the President of India’s son calls anti-rape protestors “dented and painted.” We are trained to vilify victims by ostracizing and further humiliating them in a very public way. Instead of supporting them we question their motivations, this after the woman has just experienced not only a traumatic event but been the victim of a serious crime. Also, consider that recently in response to a legal intern writing a blog about a Supreme Court judge sexually harassing her (she is still too scared to file a formal complaint), judges have announced that they will stop hiring female interns as the solution to this allegation. And people are asking why she took so long to report the incident; why she continued to party after he attacked her and still fulfill her job duties?

Rape and sexual assault is the most under reported crime in the world. There is a sense of humiliation, a loss of dignity, powerlessness and severe physical and mental trauma and shock associated with such a violation of a person’s body. Additionally, as in this case, there is also a real fear of retaliation by a powerful and wealthy perpetrator. The victim would likely lose her job and fear for her future financial security. She had to consider that Mr. Tejpal might decide to ruin her life with his power, money and connections in order to protect himself. He has already shown willingness to smear the victim’s character. So it is not surprising that she waited a week to formally file a complaint but laudable that she actually found the courage to do it. We must now support and protect her, and in doing so encourage all the women who have been abused by Mr. Tejpal to also come forward.

This is not about being holier than thou or about fighting for feminism and women’s liberation; I am simply talking about ensuring that women have the same rights in society as men and can walk down the street or wander their office halls without any fear of humiliation or physical molestation. We must give the thousands of women who have suffered these crimes, in silence, a voice. We need to create an environment where women can come forward and report these offenses, without fear of reprisal or retaliation. If this happened to your daughter, sister or wife – would you be questioning their timing, their motives or doubting what they say? We can no longer afford to stay silent. If we remain silent and let men like him get away with these crimes, then we will all be equally complicit and no different from Mr. Tejpal.