Tales of lust and sleaze

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is not the first high-profile person to face charges of sexual misconduct, nor shall he be the last.

No matter what people may say, most of us are interested in tales of sleaze, lust and illicit sex. But the important thing for the person indulging in either sleaze or illicit sex or both is to remain discreet and within limits. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has had to resign as managing director of the IMF after being accused of and arrested for attempting to rape a maid in a posh Manhattan hotel, has a long history of such deeds. He is currently on bail.

Ms Tristane Banon, the 31-year-old god-daughter of Strauss-Kahn’s second wife Brigitte Guillemette, claims he attacked her almost similarly during a television interview when she was a trainee journalist. Strauss-Kahn, then an Opposition leader in France, had offered her an interview in a studio apartment in Paris. She was 22 at the time of the incident and was persuaded by her mother, a regional councillor in the Socialist Party and friend of the Strauss-Kahn family, not to take any action. “At the time there was absolutely no doubt that it had happened. My error at the time was to think that it was a moment when he went off the rails,” recalls Ms Banon’s mother
Anne Mansouret.

Sex workers are available at every nook and corner in American and European cities. Had Strauss-Kahn been found in their company, he could have got away as it would be consensual sex and not attempted rape as in the present case. Yet, that would not have discounted the fact that ethics, values and morals are vital for those holding important positions, for instance the top job at the IMF. But Strauss-Kahn is not the first high-profile person — nor will he be the last — to be charged with sexual misdemeanour. Others have gone down this road before, including several Presidents of the US and powerful people in other countries.

Mr Bill Clinton is only the latest US President to be impeached for lying under oath over his affair with a White House intern, Ms Monica Lewinsky. Other American Presidents who are guilty of extra-marital sex include Thomas Jefferson: This has been been confirmed through DNA testing on his descendants in 1998. A later study by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation came to the same conclusion — he had fathered a child out of wedlock.

Before Grover Cleveland became the President of America, a store clerk, Maria Halpin, named him as the father of her illegitimate son. Cleveland didn’t dispute the charge, and the child was quietly adopted. Similar allegations were made against Presidents John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson and Franklin D Roosevelt.

Indian politicians tend to keep things under wraps. The media, even if it gets a whiff of sexual escapades by politicians and the high and mighty, tens to play it safe to avoid charges of libel. But sometimes nasty stories do get out into the public domain. A Governor of Andhra Pradesh was caught on a hidden camera in his Raj Bhawan bed with three women. The tape was telecast by a Telugu channel. The Andhra Pradesh High Court subsequently restrained the channel from showing the tape. As it happens in most such cases in India, nobody confesses to his or her involvement. So also with this case: The incident was denied. But it led to the resignation of the Governor who is now involved in a paternity suit — a young man has claimed that he is his biological father. Sex scandals involving senior politicians have been reported from many States.

Amarmani Tripathi, erstwhile Cabinet Minister in Uttar Pradesh, was arrested in September 2003 in connection with the death of poetess Madhumita Shukla with whom he allegedly had an affair and who was brutally murdered. Investigations revealed that she was pregnant and the DNA of the foetus matched that of Tripathi. The Supreme Court rejected his bail plea; he is currently in jail, sentenced to life imprisonment. There are such other examples. Uttarakhand’s Revenue Minister Harak Singh Rawat had to resign in 2003 amid allegations of his ‘links’ with an unwed mother. Opposition members had raised the issue of his alleged affair with the Assamese woman who later gave birth to a child.

Charlatans posing as swamis have also been charged with sexual assault. For example, Sun TV telecast a tape showing a Karnataka-based godman in a compromising position with a Tamil actress. Swamis are supposed to lead the life of a celibate or a brahmachari. They are not expected to indulge in worldly pleasures. They are expected to follow high standards of moral integrity. But some of them are exposed for what they are.

Had Strauss-Kahn, or any other foreign dignitary, had committed a similar deed as the former IMF chief has been charged with while visiting India, nothing would have happened. The hosts would have flatly denied the occurrence of such an incident and charged the person levelling the allegation with trying to ruin a person’s reputation. The same argument would have been proffered if a ‘VIP’ is charged with any major crime, including corrupt practices.

When I was heading the CBI, I had ordered that the Chief Minister of a State be arrested for his role in the infamous fodder scam. The then Prime Minister had reacted by saying that the CBI had ruined many a reputation without a shred of evidence. Assessing the credibility of the evidence gathered by the investigating agency is the job of the courts. Since the Government of the day did not dare interfere in the judicial process, I was transferred from CBI for not being pliant. The transfer order was issued while I was abroad attending an Interpol conference.

We also know that in our country pressure is often applied on victims or complainants to withdraw charges. If pressure does not work, then money is used to for striking a ‘compromise’. Sadly, even the media is amenable to pressure and blacks out news of such incidents. If at all the story appears in print or goes on air, the details are at best sketchy.

There is a lesson to be learned from the manner in which the US authorities have treated the Strauss-Kahn affair: No matter how important or powerful a person is, he should not be allowed to get away with criminal deeds, including sexual offences, by using connections and clout. The effort should be to ensure swift and fair trial so that the perpetrator gets his just deserts.

Meanwhile, those who take sexual assault and related offences lightly would do well to ponder over this: Sex is not the answer, sex is the question. ‘Yes’ is the answer, but only if the other party is willing. As Don Schrader once famously said, “To hear many religious people talk, one would think god created the torso, head, legs and arms, but the devil slapped on the genitals.”