Top Indian editor in court over sexual assault case

PANAJI, India - Indian news magazine editor Tarun Tejpal appeared Saturday in court in the holiday state of Goa for a pre-trial hearing on allegations of sexual assault levelled by a woman employee.

Tejpal is the founder of Tehelka, an investigative magazine responsible for some of India's hardest-hitting journalism about abuses of power, corruption and violence against women.

The 50-year-old media chief was accompanied by his wife and daughter as he arrived at a trial court in the city of Panaji, a day after flying in from his home in New Delhi.

Tejpal was seeking so-called "pre-bail" at the hearing. Under Indian law, an individual can seek pre-trial bail if he fears a possible arrest.

Ahead of his court appearance, Tejpal was questioned by the police over the alleged assault in a hotel elevator in Goa during a magazine-sponsored event earlier this month.

"We have joined the investigation started by the (police) crime branch. We will continue to do so," the ponytailed Tejpal, flanked by a team of lawyers, told reporters.

The case has grabbed headlines in recent days mainly because of the prominence of Tejpal and his liberal-oriented magazine, which set a new trend in Indian journalism with its graft exposes and sting operations.

The magazine has reported forcefully on gender inequality in India recently, highlighting police and judicial insensitivity to rape victims as well as the misogynistic attitudes of many Indian men.

It has been accused of hypocrisy and trying to cover up a serious crime after staff were sent an email last week saying Tejpal was stepping down for six months for "misconduct".

Tejpal, also a famed novelist, has denied the allegations.

The victim, who quit her job at the magazine after the scandal broke, said in a statement Friday she was fighting to preserve her "integrity."

Tejpal who initially apologised for what he called "a bad lapse of judgement" later termed the incidents "consensual" and "fleeting".

India's media became much more sensitised to sexual assault cases after the fatal gang-rape of a student in Delhi last December stirred massive protests over violence against women.

Under a new tougher rape law passed by parliament after the gang rape, Tejpal could be jailed for 10 years, lawyers say.

Meanwhile, a high-profile retired Indian Supreme Court judge denied he sexually harassed a young law intern last year.

Ashok Kumar Ganguly, 66, said he had been "shocked and shattered" by the allegation made by a 22-year-old law student who had been interning with him.

In comments to NDTV news channel, Ganguly said he had worked with several interns in his life and that he treated them "like my children".

Ganguly, who is also chairman of the Human Rights Commission in the eastern state of West Bengal, retired as a Supreme Court judge in February 2012.

Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women Association, called for stern action against anybody abusing their position to seek sexual favours.

Powerful people "know the odds are stacked against complainants. A woman has a huge lot to lose in such cases. She stands to lose her job, her peace of mind, privacy - everything is at stake for her," she told AFP.

"The predators bank on a culture of silence, thinking they can get away with anything," she said.