Tarun Tejpal: How has investigative journalism in India changed in the last 20 years?

Indian journalist and writer Tarun Tejpal speaks about development and corruption in India, and the role of investigative journalism.

Tarun Tejpal is the editor-in-chief of the Indian investigative magazine Tehelka, and author of the book The Story of my Assassins, which is based on his own experience of facing the men who had been hired to kill him in court. Tehelka has revealed several high profile cases of corruption in India.

Matthew McCarthy introduces his ideas about corruption in India (0:09 min) to which Tarun Tejpal responds (0:53 min), explaining that corruption is part of the development process India is experiencing and part of human nature. Tehelka’s role embedding itself into the major narratives of modern India (2:00 min), which includes corruption but also inequality. Injustice and the inefficiency of the legal system (3:02 min) is another narrative and major obstacle which Tehelka has worked on. Yet, in a country like India Tejpal believes corruption to have aplace as a class leveller (5:30 min) and a way of subverting a system that is structurally biased against them (7:45 min). His novel The Story of my Assassins is fundamentally an attempt to tell the counter-narrative to the shining India narrative (9:00min).

India is a society divided by many fault-lines, religion is a major one (13:01 min). Cast is another one that is still prominent (14:50 min), but the founding fathers of India put the structure in terms of legislation and constitution into place to make everyone equal, but society is slow to follow.

His book The Story of my Assassins is only inspired by some incidents, such as a hit on his life, but is not based on his life (17:55min). Despite the book being very difficult for the Indian middle class to deal with Tarun Tejpal received a very good critical reaction to the book in India (20:20 min).

Operation West End was an exposé  of corruption in 2001 which led to the closing for Tehelka for 3 years (13:01 min). Despite the reputation of Tehelka for such exposé work, human gullibility means the work is not getting more difficult (26:30 min). Over the years Tehelka has developed it technique and fine-tuned its framework of stings (27:21 min).

Despite the fact that the Indian middle class has only emerged recently, the middle class needs to see itself in the context of its position in a poor country (28:45 min) and has the responsibility of giving back. This cannot be changed quickly, but the processes have been put in place by the founding father. It is the responsibility of the Indian middle class and journalists is to aid those processes.

The collapse of the socialist state in 1991 is not necessarily related to a rise in corruption (33:49 min). The media forces these things that have always existed to come out into the open (36:45 min).  Corruption will not be eradicated in the near future, but journalism is involved in fighting it (38:15 min), but the slow legal system is not conducive to this.

Writing literature and journalism are very distinct processes, but what they share is the subversive nature of both (41:10 min).

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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