Monday, April 21, 2014

Two Sides of the Same, Beautiful Coin (Last Year on 22.3.2013)

Two Sides of the Same, Beautiful Coin

Teesta Setalvad

Two months apart, January 13 and March 13, 2013 we lost two visionary religious men. On the earlier date, a Sunday evening, Maulana Umerji from Godhra passed away. He who ran the Godhra Relief Camp in 2002 where Survivors from Panchmahal, Dahod and other districts took shelter and drew succour is a symbol of Courage, Resistance and Faith. He was made a specific and vicious target by a man and an administration that has built its development plank on the humiliation and subjugation of Muslims.
From 2003 - 2011 he has to spend in jail, seriously ill and heartbroken the victim of a vindictive government who invoked POTA to incarcerate him without any substantive proof, simply because he had extended a courageous helping hand to his community women, girls boys and men. Finally he was "honourably acquitted" when the final judgement was delivered in February 2011. No Bail was granted to him even after he approached the Supreme Court. Other accused of the Godhra mass arson (Muslims) were similarly refused bail while eighty per cent of those accused of the post Godhra reprisal massacres were given bail within six months to a year. Hence my Salaams to sisters from Naroda Patiya who deposed without fear or favour while Kodnani and Bajrangi roamed free in their areas without bail, even as the trial progressed, for years.

Two months kater, last week, we lost another man.Before he could light the lamp for the daily evening aarti at the Sankat Mochan mandir last Wednesday evening, March 13, 2013, Dr Veer Bhadra Mishra seer and scientist breathed his last. The mahant, who’s modest abode was at the legendary Tulsighat of Benaras, succumbed to lung congestion at 75. A post-graduate from the Benares Hindu University, Dr Mishra was also a hydraulic engineer by profession using all his scientific knowledge and spiritual strength to urge cynical governments to get his beloved Ganga mai re-born in her life-sustaining image.
Gifted with two critical faculties, as he put it, he had come to become the voice for a clean and re-born Ganga. “There is a necessary interface between the two, a committed heart and a rationally trained mind, “ he shared in a candid conversation with me in 2006 after his beloved temple and city had been ripped with the violence of twin bombings. “Today men of science have gradually begun to accept that there is a world beyond the mere physical. I have been saying for over 25 years that the fish in the Ganga are dying, soon we human beings living on its banks will follow. I have been working on the issue of purification of fresh water bodies with Ganga as the symbol. The Ganga catchment area provides sustenance to 40 crore human lives, Domestic sewage and industrial pollution contributes to 95 per cent of the pollution and this can be stopped.” He never lost a public opportunity to raise this issue.
It was in the aftermath of the vicious violence however, that his deep conviction met another kind of challenge when he rose to the highest demands of all faiths when he called the peace. Seven years ago to a week, on March 7, 2006, a week before the festival of Holi could be celebrated, twin bomb blasts rocked the mystical city on the banks of the Ganges and sent resounding shock waves throughout the country. A total of 23 persons were killed, 21 of them worshippers within the precincts of the Sankat Mochan temple, a temple devoted to Lord Hanuman and to whom the devout offer special prayers on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The calculated acts of violence were aimed beyond the lives that they took, the ultimate provocation. Located on the banks of the holy Ganges, Kashi, is the pilgrimage centre for the devout and central to Hindu scriptures and religiosity, Hindustani music and poetry. Deep grief and legitimate outrage could have spilled into spiraling violence.
Instead, drawing deep from the spirituality and mysticism that has woven itself around Kashi, devotees responded by continuing their darshan before Lord Hanuman within 40 minutes of the tragedy, close to the spot where blood had been spilt hours earlier. Temple mahant, Dr Veer Bhadra Mishra, led the devout, in his calm way, refusing to let this blow tarnish the temple’s tradition of inclusiveness and tolerance. Best efforts for politico-religious figures to gain entry were thwarted. Adversity, says the cliché draws out the best or the worst in us. The mahant’s call for calm and peace made the tide turn, nationally. By the next morning, residents of the city – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians – demonstrated, in peaceful outrage against the acts of terror. Burkha-clad women, traders and Muslim clergy were not only visible in their protest and grief but could also be seen offering prayers at the temple. Any outsider could have mistaken Tulsi ghat for a Muslim neighbourhood.
 Maulana Umerji carried the same vision of commitment, inclusion and sagacity. I remember the several occasions I met him before and after he was unfairly and vindictively jailed in 2003. Not only did he give courage and succor to children, women, men devastated by a perpetrated attack on them in 2002, including the indomitable Bilkees Bano. He had run the Godhra Relief Camp from Panchmahals and Dahod the two worst affected districts after Ahmedabad, that housed the raped, maimed and dishoused for six-eight months, in 2002. He had, in 1984 when the ghastly gas leak of the poisonous Methyl Icocynate gas spread over Bhopal claining over 3,000 lives raised relief  for his fellow citizens. Yet our system, we, you and I, denied him dignified treatment and even the Courts, including our Supreme Court did not grant him bail when there was no proof against him. The government of his state used money power and resources in the Courts to present a scary picture of the Godhra accused – many of whom finally got acquitted in February 2011– and denied them a freedom that the law and the Constitution gives all citizens. Umerjisaab died a broken man, he would sob in jail quietly when visitors met him and the only sad vindication was the thousands who thronged to pay last respects that Sunday – January 13, 2013.
I had in anger and depression when the seventh innocent and falsely accused of the Godhra mass arson died in jail way back in February 2008 written a short angry piece/article titled “Discriminatory Justice” and sent it out to three or four publications, to publish. It was my fortune that a prestigious weekly in Malayalam carried it, Matrubhumi. I had tracked the case especially the injustice in the Courts not listing and hearing the repeated pleas of the Godhra accused, for bail even after the Central (POTA) Review Committee, had, on 16.5.2005, after carefully examining the issues at hand, ruled that POTA was not applicable to Godhra. Shockingly, however, this decision by a quasi-judicial authority had not been taken into consideration by either the Gujarat government or the POTA court. Matters relating to bail for the accused, especially in view of the decision by the Central (POTA) Review Committee, were taken to the Supreme Court but these two faced repeated and inexplicable delays for which the highest court in the land needs to deliberate and respond. This is what my anguished piece in the Matrubhumi  had towards the end, distressed as a I was, when the seventh innocent person had died of tuberculosis unattended, in the Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad, asked. Gandhiji, if alive would surely have gone a hunger fast for this injustice.
I had ended my piece with these pained questions, “Which matters get automatic priority and which do not?; Which matters suffer because of the delays and interim orders of the Supreme Court?; Is there no prioritisation of cases where issues of personal liberty, denial of basic fundamental rights, mass crimes and impunity to the rich and powerful is concerned?
If we can ask no questions, we will receive no answers…..”
As a result of the system’s callousness or apathy or discrimination – or a mix of all of these three --, 84 of those allegedly accused of the Godhra train burning (one of whom is near 100 per cent blind) have been denied their personal liberty for six years. Bail is the fundamental prerequisite inalienable fundamental right of any and every accused under Indian criminal law and civilised form of jurisprudence. Even draconian anti-terror laws that are severely contested because they vest untested powers in the police and executive do not ever condone custody for such a long period of time.

This week as we mourn the loss of two visionary men, men of faith, who did not fail their secular duty of compassion, justice and truth, we need to re-double our efforts to ensure that our system returns to the fundamental principles of Constitutional Governance, fair play and non discrimination. It would be oue best tribute to them.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Weekly Column (April 18 2014)

To Stand Together
Teesta Setalvad

When Savitribai Phule, backed by her comrade in arms Jyotiba Phule opened the first ever all girls school at Bhidewada, Pune in 1848 with not more than seven-nine students, she and her husband were ostracized, condemned by caste peers and thrown out of home and hearth. This is arguably the first ever all girls school in the world, a vital slice of history that we do not celebrate within textbooks, classroom or the curriculum. Today a bank runs there.
Why was a common school system that cut across caste and community, educating girls, hitherto uneducated such a threat to entrenched hierarchies and vested interests? Educating girls and women has been at the core of revolutionary, radical movements world over. Within India’s unequal structures of caste, class and community this was a pivotal movement.
Ostracised and reviled, the Phule couple was given shelter by the Usman Shaikh from Pune and Usman’s wife Fatima became, along with Savitribai the first of the teachers to teach at this unique school. Girls from the Mali and Mahar castes, a Brahmin girl as also a Muslim beti sat side by side to absorb the joys of learning.

It has always deeply troubled me why such a narrative is hidden from our history and social studies texts. Within Maharashtra where I was born and live, the Savitribai Phule-Fatima Shaikh is a popular alternative history narrative emotive in its appeal. We also celebrate 3rd January every year as an additional Teacher’s Day (the birth anniversary of Savitribai). Another absent narrative is of Dr Babasaheb as a young student in stds VI or VII at the Elphinstone School, Bombay. A complicated mathematics problem was posed on the blackboard. Several students failed to crack it. Called upon to answer, little Bhimrao walked up to the blackboard and confidently with a white chalk wrote the answer. As he did so, the attention of the teacher and his fellow students was not on the problem or answer but the fate of their luncheons (all in tiffin boxes behind the blackboard). Now that an ‘untouchable’ had cast a shadow on the food, they were prevented by filthy tradition to eat it!

History texts and politics around them are authored by the dominant classes and castes. Within India this caste has consolidated economic and political control and power through exclusion of basic fundamental rights of the depressed castes and even minorities fall among them. Understanding the modern (175-200 year old) phenomenon of communalism (manipulation of religious symbols and religious identity for political gain) necessitates a more fundamental understanding the 2,500 discriminations of wider Hindu/Indian society on the basis of caste. Caste othered, excluded and denied basic fundamental rights like heightened communalism does today. One of the shrewdest ways that privileged caste manipulations continued caste manipulations was using the depressed castes, (after mobilizing them into the all Hindu fold, a la the Valmikis by the Bajrang Dal) to foster violence against the minorities. The slogans of the sword wielders of Aseemanand when he was in the Dangs in the 1990s (16 Churches were attacked during the Christmas of 1998-1999 while the NDA was in power) was that “we need a new avatar of the Untouchable to wield our power on.  So the battered Muslim or Christian comes in handy.
Caste consciousness within India’s religious minorities is high. Ironically 90 per cent of converts to both Christianity and Islam, in the belief that these faiths offered them liberation from the indignities of caste, continue caste practices that are abusive of the rights of depressed castes. Minority institutions refuse reservations (even for Dalit Christians and Muslims) and in turn a majoritarian consciousness among Indian Dalits has communalized their consciousness.
Political formations that espouse a coalition of the depressed sections – taking account its history of relying on the majoritarian BJP in the past – offer interesting possibilities for not just a different political alliance but  a different kind of leadership to emerge. A leadership that is closely connected to work and profession, a leadership that has a social and economic alliance in lived everyday life with different communities of the same caste, united in the conviction that the hegemonised economic and political clout of a small percentage of the elite needs to be challenged.

In recent trips to Uttar Pradesh, battered over past months with bitter intra-community hatred, working class Muslims recall the past regime where no community consciousness but the rule of law governed. To convert this latent goodwill into a lasting cohesion, beyond ticket collection and poll results a live politics on the ground that build social and economic alliances on the shared lived experiences of the depressed castes and communities is a must. It is also important to resist the divisive politics of majoritarianism that pits one against the other.

Remember Mandal? Introduction of the recommendations of the Mandal commission report by the VP Singh created a turmoil in Indian politics creating a resurgence through the politics of the “kamandal” (Ramjanmabhoomi agitation).  Any movement for assertion and rights of the not so backward castes has inevitably led to the resurgence of harsh communal politics forged by an “all Hindu identity”. Which is why the projection of the PM-in waiting as a man of the backwards, when for all his political career he has promoted the politics of caste and class privilege, apart from communalism, is ironic. When Mandal happened, Dalit intellectual and leaders predicted it taking an anti-Dalit shape and form. It did.

Ironically, at the time the arguments dished out by anti-Mandal (read extended reservation) agitators was of “merit.” Posing ‘reservation’ vs ‘merit’ is missing the wood for the trees. Check out those who apply to medical school or law. Thirty per cent of applicants are from families of lawyers or doctors.

During  the decade preceding the Mandal, Gujarat’s famed  navnirman  movement transformed itself into brute anti-minority violence. Each time entrenched privileged castes have been threatened by a strong vibrant movement of assertion, for rights from depressed castes: the solution has been to forge an all-Hindu identity to target an ‘outsider.’

Which is why the pathetic assertion of the majoritarian BJP recently that UPA II pampered Muslims (sic) at the cost of Dalits. That is the low level at which the BJP operates, that is how they responded to the Sachar Committee report, a document that critically acknowledged the declining socio-economic status of India’s largest minority. A sensitive and responsible political opposition would acknowledge this and then negotiate the limited share available and speak of healthy distribution among different depressed sections. That is not just the need of the hour but the way forward. Such an attitude can only come from a party committed to liberation of the oppressed castes from exclusion not from a majoritarian communal formation that thrives on the politics of division and hatred. Politics to be wholesome and healthy needs to abjure violence and promote negotiation. BJP and its backbone threaten and promote violence, polarize sections to a false notion of identity and consciousness, “othering” the minority. The toiling castes, the artisans, the agriculturists, belong to sections that are at the whim and mercy of these politics need to emerge strong and committed to a collective shared and living experience that then transforms into a modern day politics. Only when the politics of day-to-day living and negotiation, emergent leaderships itself becomes the bedrock of not just political organization and leaderships but also alliances, can these alliances be lasting and permanent.
Will election 2016 in north India see the re-emergence of just such a fledgling alliance, to be built upon and strengthened in time?
The answer beckons….


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Season of Discontent Teesta Setalvad Column for the Week

Season of Discontent
Teesta Setalvad
One of the greatest achievements of India’s leading opposition part since the mid-1980s to the early 1990s has been to manipulate and shift Indian discourse from the real to the distorted, from the factual to the manipulated. Behind this Goebellian technique is the proto fascist organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) owing it’s inspiration to no great Indian pluralist tradition but to the very modern fascism of Mussolini and Nazism of Hitler. To date their parliamentary wing the BJP has not de-linked itself from this core organisation. It is RSS that males the major decisions, it is RSS that will rule the country if the BJP commands enough seats to cobble together a government. See
Remember the discourse in the mid-1980s that was echoed on one of our abusive national networks last week. By the way, our national television networks display a crass majoritarianism that has crept into the polity and Indian institutions of governance. It was the RSS and then the BJP that tried, albeit not entirely successfully to alter the name of the 400 year old Babri Masjid to ‘disputed structure”. Now of course, after the shameful Allahabad High Court verdict of 2010 they go further as to call it the Ramjanmabhoomi! That’s how far our institutions have succumbed.
For the Advanis, the Modis, the RSS secularism is not the flame that breathes life into the idea of India. Why are secularism and democracy so closely intertwined? Because in a country that is diverse, segregated, unequal, all on the basis of caste, community, class and gender, the only way democracy can be true is by upholding the values of egalitarianism, equity and non-discrimination. This is what secularism is, State being distant from all religions while institutions of state never discriminating between the religion, the caste, the class, ethnicity and the gender of any community.
Yet for the AMRs (Advanis. Modis, RSS) clan, to be secular is to be psuedu-secular and to be brazenly majoritarian is to be actually secular. The sad appropriation of the fundamental belief on which the edifice of the Indian republic stands. Asks their chelas, the commentators who were with them at Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid was demolished (Chandan Mitra and Swapan Das Gupta) and who today edit party owned newspapers and hog column and television space whether they defended the demolition of 6.12.2002? Ask this question to Modi. To Shah. To Swaraj. To Jaitley. What will be their answer. We will not know as the question will not be asked.
Today we have an even more sinister to this tale. Where a Sri Sri Swami and a Baba openly campaigning for the Man who would be PM and his party is to be secular but to solicit and meet an Imam and dignify the support of a minority community is dubbed communal. That the RSS says so is understood, they are masters of Gobellian manipulation but what happens when the Indian media falls in line. The mot question today is has the mainstream Indian media become completely and utterly majoritarian?
Take this argument further. Iqbal Masood said what he did and the authorities were quick to swoop down, lodge a case and he was even jailed for several days. Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speech went viral for days before he too faced some consequences for his actions. But what of Modi’s speech at Becharaji on 9.9.2002? The state intelligence bureau found it communal and hate-ridden, as did the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), audio and video recordings are available with the news channel and the authorities but are being concealed from the courts. For years when Hindutva consolidation was necessary the Becharaji speech made by Modi at his Gaurav Yatra (9.9.2002) were gleefully displayed on the net, only after the Zakia Jafri petition started to be heard were they, in a cowardly backtrack removed from the internet.
What of Amit Shah’s poison regarding which an FIR has been lodged? The EC has sent him a notice but why does he not meet the same fate as Masood? Equality before the law demands just and equal treatment to all. By the way, the Man who would be PM has defended Amit Shah’s speeches to the hilt.
And speaking of Owaisi, what of Praveen Togadia? Ashok Singhal? Giriraj Kishore? Togadia roamed the country freely between 199-2004 when the NDA was in power, illegally distributing trishuls, delivering diatribes laced with venom in Assam, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Check out this Cover Story of Communalism Combat that I wrote in May 2003, Against the Law. ( Not only did the Vajpayee-Advani nexus at the Centre not arrest him, the State governments allow him to roam freely but worst Indian courts were silent. No suo moto action was initiated against Togadia for saying, April 2003, "In the coming days, each and every village in the country will be turned into an Ayodhya. Once the campaign starts, I cannot say where it will head. People in the villages will then turn their attention towards every mosque that was built after destroying some temple. I do not know what will happen then," Togadia had said. Or Ashok Singhal who said “every village in India would be made into a Gujarat” (2002) and predictably, no criminal action has ever followed.
History needs to be recalled so we learn from it, the cardinal errors are not repeated. Voting an NDA into power will allow the hate speech makers to roam, spreading fear and hatred in every village, division in every heart, potential violence in every location.
Rewind back to April 16, 2003. Praveen Togadia was billed to be the star speaker at a ‘Viraat Dharma Sabha’ tobe held on the premises of an English language school in Roha, the adjacent block to Alibag in coastal Maharashtra. A brave chief minister of Rajasthan arrested him en route to Ajmer and he was jailed for 10 days. Ashok Gehlot was the only man who dared to do this. Togadia was arrested for making inflammatory speeches and distribution of trishuls in Rajasthan just a few days prior to his arrival in coastal Maharashtra. Undettered, the organisers found a substitute. The Roha ‘Dharma Sabha’ was held nonetheless, was addressed by Swami Dharmendra who spewed his own brand of poison. And got scot free.
For every Modi there is a Shah, for every Togadia an Acharya, for every Advani a Vajpayee. This is what a proto fascist organistion does. It breeds prototypes of rabble rousers, hate mongers ensuring a quick line of succession if one fails or is shifted out of the way. To ensure that the public atmosphere is poisoned, the fundamentals of the rule of law are eroded and in fact ground prepared for violent attacks on a section of our own people. Every major communal conflagration is preceded by hate speech and hate writing, creating a public climate that silences the majority into compliance. Allowing the perpetrators free elbow room to barter hatred and bloodshed.  To uphold the rule of law demands that Indian institutions respond to this phenomenon, cynically and cyclically  used and repeated. To ensure equal treatment before the law for one and all.
As we go forward into a long summer of election driven high temperatures, there are warnings that in desperation to make the numbers, desperate players will play the predictable, desperate communal card. Will our institutions be paralysed as in the past or rise to the occasion and deliver?
As for us, you and me, we would do well to remember. It is crucial more than now that we ensure that the forces of majoritarian communalism are decisively and resoundingly defeated. At the polls.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Citizens rally for Teesta Setalvad and others

Citizens rally for Teesta Setalvad and others

Saturday 5th April 2014! A day many will surely never forget! The Mehdi Nawaz Jung  Hall in the Paldi area of Ahmedabad, which has a capacity of just about 250, was bursting at its seams, as more than a thousand citizens  had come in.

They had gathered together under the aegis of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties(PUCL) to protest against the vindictive actions, the intimidation and harassment being meted out to human rights stalwarts Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand and to victim –survivors from Gulberg Society Salimbhai Sandhi, Firoz Gulzar and Tanveer Jafri.

The Public meeting brought in people from all walks of life: victim-survivors of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 and human rights activists; politicians and bureaucrats; intellectuals, academics, lawyers and journalists- in fact several prominent citizens of the city.  The unexpected huge turn –out was a clear sign that they were not going to take things lying down, any more!

Speaker after speaker strongly condemned the vindictive actions to which Teesta and the others were subjected to; they commended Teesta for her resoluteness , her dogged perseverance in ensuring justice in several cases of 2002;for her generosity and large-heartedness for helping those in need; everyone was clear about who were behind the false cases that were being foisted. They strongly felt that all like-minded citizens and groups should unite as fast as possible in order to make their voice heard! We need to tell  those responsible for these heinous and divisive acts that “enough is enough!”,that we will no longer tolerate these despicable acts.

Among those who addressed the large gathering were Mr Suresh Mehta, the former Chief Minister of Gujarat; Mr Gyasuddin Shaikh MLA, Mr. S. M. Peerzada retd. Sessions Judge,Mr R. B. Sreekumar the retd. Additional Director General of Police, Gujarat;Mr Iqbal Shaikh , Sr. Central Counsel Gujarat High Court: Ms Rupaben Mody  and Ms Sairaben Sandhi victim-survivors from Gulberg Society; Sophia Khan and Fr Cedric Prakash, human rights activists. The Municipal Councillor from Gomtipur Mr Iqbal Shiekh  led a huge procession to the hall carrying placards in defense of Teesta and condemning all that the Govt of Gujarat was doing to harass  those who were fighting for peace and justice.

The meeting ended with a clear statement “Don’t Intimidate those marching for Justice and Reparation”…and a pledge that until the false cases against Teesta and others, are not withdrawn- the struggle of the citizens of Gujarat , will only intensify in the coming days !

Don’t Intimidate those Marching for Justice and Reparation

A Survivors and Citizens meeting was organised at the Mehdi Jung Hall Paldi, Ahmedabad today between 3-5 p.m.. under the banner of PUCL Ahmedabad to protest the Vindictive Action against those struggling for justice (Survivors Salimbhai Sandhi, Firoz Gulzar, Tanveer Jafri, Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad).

Former CM Sureshbhai Mehta and RB Sreekumar were there with Cedric Prakash, Sofia Khan Sairabehn Sandhi, Rupabehn Mody and over 1,000 others. Local MLAs and Corporators also took the lead. Great energy and enthusiasm was witnessed at the meeting.

The message was: Don’t Intimidate those Marching for Justice and Reparation. A hall of 250 capacity was overflowing..Over 1,000 persons attended. Photos are matched.

We shall overcome

The cost of the struggle for dignity, justice and reparation, personal and material is high. Twelve years down our success rate is 117 Life Imprisonments in Major 2002 Carnage Cases, monitored by the SC where Witness  Protection is still being given. I(n all except the Bilqees Bano Case [12 convicted] CJP's team has been directly involved working with Survivor Eye Witnesses, Getting Threatened nd Maligned. To top it all is the Zakia Jafir vs  Narendra Modi and Others case now pending hearing in appeal in the Gujarat HC. Four times Anticipatory Bail Vilification and Threat. The Cost for Justice needs to be computed in these terms. Can there be justice without a citizens legal rights groups supporting Victim Survivors when the State is Perpetrator? A question that our Lofty System could do well to answer

Teesta Setalvad

Saturday, April 5, 2014

We Rest of Case (Teesta Setalvad, CJP)

Teesta Setalvad

The latest malicious and vindictive action against me personally and our organization, Citizens for Justice and Peace, by the Gujarat police because of our free Legal Aid work to assist the victims of 2002 for reparation and prosecution. The brief details of the circumstances are as follows:

Over 1,000 innocent persons (official figures, according to a total of the charge sheets the figures are closer to 1,900) mostly Muslims were killed in mob violence and police firing in the state of Gujarat in 2002 as a result of what numerous national and international human rights organizations have described as a "state-sponsored pogrom". The Mrs Zakia Jafri vs Narendra Modi and 59 Others Criminal Case seeks to assign Criminal Culpability and is currently pending in the Gujarat HC.

Our organization was founded in April 2002, to provide Free Legal Aid and other support to ensure justice, relief and reparation to victims-survivors of the worst carnage in India's post-Independence history. Especially because the masterminds of the violence were top state actors, including politicians, police officers and civil servants, the Gujarat administration and police have placed innumerable hurdles in the justice process and sought to implicate human rights defenders, even victim-survivors of the mass crimes in false criminal cases. The state has acted in the same vindictive fashion against a few duty-conscious, impartial police officers who have provided incriminating evidence of state complicity.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court of India, the highest court in the country, has put a 'stay' in a number of such cases against me in the past few years and which are pending final hearing.  Our organisation, Citizens for Justice and Peace (Mumbai, India) and I as its Secretary have been kindly acknowledged to be devoting significant and quality time for the legal struggle for justice. Because of this, our organization and I have been targeted with attempts to implicate us/me in false criminal cases.
I as Secretary of the Organisation have been targeted several times in the past. Each time, the proxy of a Survivors (intimidated or allured into turning hostile) has been used with zealous state backing. In 2004 after the Best Bakery re trial was shifted by the SC to Mumbai, the star witness turned hostile for the second time, the day before she was to appear in the Mazgaon court and made baseless allegations against me personally. At a press conference in Vadodara on 3.11.2004 she accused me of “kidnapping her”, “making false affidavits” etc. An FIR was lodged. That is the first time I had to seek anticipatory bail. The star witness was given Commando protection by the Gujarat Government, housed at the Silver Oak Guest House on the Gandhinagar highway with her brother where MOS Home Amit Shah visited her after the entire staff was given leave. Immediately I approached the Supreme Court for an impartial Inquiry. The Registrar General of the Supreme Court conducted an Inquiry that completely exonerated me and my Organisation. As things got murkier, during the hearings the ruling BJP in Gujarat pulled out all the stops and PN Lekhi (now deceased) a senior advocate, father in law of Meenakshi Lekhi the candidate for Delhi and a hardcore RSS man even made sick accusations of us receiving “Arab money.” Without any proof, baseless only to malign me/us. The depth of their depravity was Lekhi saying in Court that I was Begum Teesta married to Javed through a nikaah ceremony as if that had any relevance or bearing on the case! Never mind the fact that we may have married under the Special Marriages Act not that a person’s personal life is anyone’s business. The motive is simply to sully the public mind and exploit a crude and crass anti-Muslim sentiment. The findings of the Inquiry report (Registrar General BM Gupta) completely exonerating me and my organization can be read at  Finally the star witness was convicted for perjury and had to serve a year’s simple imprisonment. An income tax inquiry found Rs. 18 lakhs  being deposited into her account from “unnamed sources.” The BJP MLA from Vadodara Madhu Srivastava had in a sting operation with Tehelka admitted to luring her. He refused to give his voice sample for sampling and this has been adversely commented upon by the Supreme Court Registrar General in his report.

Again, from September 2010 onwards, 36 months after he was removed from working with our organization (in January 2008) a former employee of the CJP, has been the ace of the proxy war against us by the state of Gujarat’s vendetta against me/us. He approached several forums making false and malicious allegations against me leading to two more criminal cases against me (Pandharwada mass graves case and the Naroda Gam case). In both I sought and was given ABA from Gujarat. When the malafide investigations were not stayed/quashed against us we had to approach the Supreme Court of India that has stayed both malafide proceedings. Meanwhile two trial courts, (Mehsana hearing the Sardarpura massacre case, judgement in 2011) and Naroda Patiya case (judgement in 2012) have exonerated the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) of any wrong doing (tutoring of witnesses, filing false affidavits etc)/. Again the source of the complaint was the same, former employee. In the cases that he has filed, senior functionaries of the BJP, Ram Jethmalani, Meenakshi Lekhi and Ravishankar Prasad also, among others, have appeared. In the Gujarat high court the nexus between the lawyers appearing for the accused in the trials, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the former employee has also been clear.

 We have, despite these obstacles, soldiered on. Thanks to our efforts a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was appointed in 2008 (March) and even the Mrs Zakia Jafri case was handed over to it (April 2009). To date, until today,  as many as 117 convictions to life imprisonment in 2002 riot cases have resulted. (Except the Bilqees Banio case that was handled by another group in which there were 12 convictions), all the other 112 convictions are the result of the dedicated and committed work of the CJP team. It is no wonder that Gujarat government is using its entire machinery to repress us and at the national level the all powerful RSS and BJP functionaries also echo this campaign.

Now, on January 4, 2014, the crime branch of the Gujarat police have filed a totally false and entirely baseless criminal case against me, my husband, Javed Anand, and even three victims-survivors of the 2002 carnage (Tanvir Jafri, Salim Sandhi and Firoz Gulzar Pathan). The last three have each lost several family members in the 2002 violence. We are maliciously accused of alleged "cheating" and embezzlement of funds collected for support to the victims-survivors. The FIR that was registered on New Year’s Day has been registered against the five accused for defrauding the members of the Gulberg Society of funds meant for the building of the Gulberg Memorial commemorating the state sponsored carnage.It may be in order to recall the facts of the case, especially, since a section of the media is spreading canards that the funds thus raised were used for buying jewellery, wine and such like, and gloating over the possibility of the arrest of Teesta Setalvad and others.
First, the complainant in the case, Feroze Khan, had forged the letterhead of the Gulberg Society to file the complaint. A written complaint to this effect was sent to the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad Police by the office bearers of the Gulberg Society. Second, as early as in March 2013, when the allegations first surfaced, the Centre for Justice and Peace and Sabrang Trust, had provided satisfactory explanation to the Crime Branch and investigation had been dropped. CJP had clarified that at no point had it collected any amount or money or land from any person residing at or claiming to be part of Gulberg society. CJP and Sabrang issued a public affidavit which showed that only Rs 4.5 lakhs had been collected for the proposed museum, of which Rs 50,000 was from foreign sources – but as the land prices spiraled, the dream for a memorial was abandoned. Its audited accounts and resolutions passed in the society proved as much.

Third, months after the investigation had been closed, the complaint was revived and the FIR registered in January 2014, as CJP was preparing for the filing of Smt. Zakia Jafri’s protest petition. It was a blatant move to jeopardize and demoralize the petitioners by the Gujarat government.

Fourth, two of the co-accused in the case are survivors of the terrible massacre in Gulberg Society in February 2002: Salimbhai Sandhi who lost five family members including his son Mohammed; and Firoz Gulzar Pathan who also lost five from his family. The third co-accused is Tanvir Jafri, son of the former MP, Ehsan Jafri, who was also hacked and burnt to death in the massacre.
 We would also like take this opportunity to state that the activities of both the CJP and Sabrang trust are transparent and legitimate, our accounts audited and filed with the requisite authorities (the Charity Commissioner, Mumbai, the Income tax authorities and the FCRA authorities, government of India). The bulk of expenses of the CJP have to do with legal aid and expenses and by clandestinely extracting our personal expenses from banks which have not been spent for from trust funds (who legally had no business to share these details with the Gujarat police), the filthy minds controlling the Crime Branch Ahmedabad are simply trying to prejudice the public mind. 
The immediate cause of this vindictive action is as follows: Mrs. Zakia Jafri, a survivor of the 2002 violence, whose husband and other relatives were mercilessly butchered, has alleged that the mass crimes of 2002 were the result of a conspiracy at the very top, involving Gujarat's chief minister, Mr. Modi along with 59 other top politicians, police officers and civil servants. In 2009, the Supreme Court of India appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the charges made by Mrs. Jafri. In its 'Final/Closure Report' filed before a magistrate's court (the lowest rung of the judicial system in India), the SIT claimed that the allegations made by Mrs. Jafri could not be substantiated. It may be noted, that a senior lawyer, Mr. Raju Ramachandran, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to make an independent assessment of the evidence collected by the SIT, had made a contradictory recommendation. Mr. Ramachandran had concluded that there was prima facie evidence for the prosecution of Mr. Modi on a number of charges. Our organization, which has been providing Legal Aid to Mrs. Jafri throughout her petition, filed a 'Protest Petition' in the Gujarat magistrate's court, challenging the "clean chit" given by the SIT to Mr. Modi and others. On December 26, 2013, the magistrate's court in Gujarat ruled in favor of the SIT's 'Closure Report'. Mrs. Jafri however, has the legal right to appeal before the higher judiciary within 3 months (that is, by March 26, 2014). The primary purpose of the false and malicious case filed against us was precisely to block Mrs. Jafri's decision to file an appeal with the assistance of our legal team, if not to intimidate us into not pursuing the matter any further. It may be noted that one of the persons accused in the alleged cheating case is Mr. Tanvir Jafri, son of Mrs. Jafri. It is an all-out, desperate and vicious tactic to harass the Jafri family into submission.
Because of the above, our organization and I have been completely tied down since early January 2014. In an attempt to totally paralyze the organization, in addition to the filing of a false criminal case, around January 21, 2014 the Gujarat crime branch wrote to the banks in Mumbai asking them to "seize the accounts of our organization as well as the personal accounts of my husband (who is also a Trustee of Citizens for Justice and Peace). Shockingly, the banks acted on the Crime Branches letter, despite this being a totally illegal instruction: only the court's in India have the power to direct such freezing of accounts.  No procedure of law has been followed. We have had to find ways and means of keeping the organization running despite the freezing of our accounts for nearly two months now.
It was under these circumstances, and overcoming all odds that we worked day and night to file the Mrs Jafri's appeal on March 15, 2014. The first hearing took place on March 20, 2014 and now the matter is scheduled to be heard on April 11, 2014.
We had moved for ABA in this last vicious case. The Bombay High Court had given us protection until February 28 and the Supreme Court until March 31,2014.  In an unfortunate decision, the Sessions Court , Ahmedabad rejected the ABA of all five of us accused and we moved the Gujarat High Court for ABA. The Court has extended us protection until April 23, 2014. It is clear that the state of Gujarat with no evidence in hand is simply using the threat of arrest to harass and intimidate us. We are hopeful that this will not happen. We had also moved the Bombay High Court in January 2014 for quashing the FIR and in early February 2014 for de-freezing of our accounts. Inexplicably, after three months, the Bombay HC rejected our petition strictly on jurisdiction. We will now approach the Supreme Court since the writ of Article 226 and 229 is much wider and we believe that the Bombay High Court does have jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, it is a matter of some relief to us that opposition political parties, prominent citizens of India including two retired judges of the Supreme Court and a large number of social activists across the country, have rallied behind our organization issued statements and held protest demonstrations, demanding immediate withdrawal of the baseless case against us to obstruct the process of justice. These statements and reports may all be accessed on the Home Page (middle panel) of our website,
Teesta Setalvad
Citizens for Justice and Peace

Friday, April 4, 2014

Courage and Cowardice (Colmn dated 4.4.2014)

Courage and Cowardice

The sign of a person of some conviction is to face adversity head on, answer hostile questions and give her/his point of view. On all issues especially contentitious ones. But in the season of this election, where market forces and corporate finances are dominating even the slant of discussions on major news channels and newspapers, hard interviews are only available when the protagonist is say a Rahul Gandhi even though he may have not been as well prepared as he should have been (Times Now).

Anyway coming back to the issue of the week. If the smaller, lesser known channels have bought into and telecast an interview with the ‘Man who would be PM ‘ over the past two days,  the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court conducted a similarly pliant interview with the strongman in 2010 though it tried to make out four years ago, that the nine hour long interview had the protagonist sweating. As the pliant questions and evasive answers below show, much more likely it had the IO of the SIT, AK Malhotra, trembling.

The interview took place on 27/28.3.2010 at the SIT office in Gandhinagar. It is the first time that a sitting chief minister has been interrogated for his role in mass crimes of a heinous nature that happened under his watch. Remember also that the man who would be PM has been Home minister of Gujarat since October 2001.

 and despite the fact that I, as co-complainant with Mrs Zakia Jafri in the Supreme Court (SLP 1088/2008) had provided the SIT with valuable evidence, the SIT tiptoes around it, and avoided it.  This issue has been detailed by us in the Protest Petition before the Magistrate (which he rejected on 26-3-2013) and has been stressed in detail in our appeal now to be heard on April 11, 2014 in the Gujarat High court.
Malhotra , SIT (Question) 41: Please see a copy of the DO letter dated 22.04.2002, addressed by Shri P. C. Pande, the then CP, and Ahmedabad City with a copy to DGP and Addl. DG (Intelligence) about the undesirable activities of Sang Parivar, activists. Was this letter brought to your notice? If so, what was the action taken by you in the matter?
Ans (Man who would be PM). In this connection, it is stated that I do not remember now, whether this issue was brought to my notice or not. But, it
has been my and my Government's approach right from the first day, that a
culprit is a culprit irrespective of his caste,creed, religion or socio political
background, as nobody is above law.
(The SIT IO Malhotra , deliberately does not probe further showing him that the letter (submitted by me to SIT) from PC Pande to then DGP Chakravarthi and ACS Home Ashok Narayan (who worked directly under the Man who would be PM) speaks of the fact that a Minister in the state cabinet Bharat Barot was, as late as April 2002 (i.e. a month after the first outburst of violence) moving around with the police in the Dilli Darwaza area of the old city of Ahmedabad and forcibly terrorizing small vendors and businessmen of the minority community and extorting monies from them).
SIT leaves out the inconvenient questions. A-1, the Man who would be PM, is not questioned on the Controversial Phone Calls from Mobiles Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) to another fellow accused, Jaideep Patel) from the VHP despite Evidence being available in the Phone Call Records Analysis provided in raw data form by Rahul Sharma, DCP Crime Branch (2002) when he produced the CD before the Nanavati-Shah Commission in 2004 and thereafter accessed by Citizens for Justice and Peace and analysed by us. We had placed this data before the SIT and the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Q.56.(Malhotra) Did you ever use the mobile phones of your personal staff, namely Shri Anil Mukim, the then Addl. PS to CM, Shri Tanmay Mehta, PA to CM, Shri Sanjay Bhavsar, OSD and Shri O.P. Singh, PA to CM?
A (MAN who would be PM) : Telephones are installed at my residence as well as my office Whenever, I go out, telephones are available to me. I have never used the mobile phones of my personal staff at headquarters. There was a mobile phone allotted to me in the year 2002, but I rarely used the same I do not recollect its number.
(SIT was in possession of the following evidence provided by us:  After the Man who would be PM first received the fax message from Jayanti Ravi,
Collector/DM about the provocative behavior of kar sevaks leading to an altercation between those travelling in  the train and vendors who happened to be Muslims, at the Godhra railway station and the tragedy of the Godhra train burning took place, two telephone calls were made by him, the Man who would be PM. These were not made to top officials of the police or bureaucracy. But the Man who would be PM made these calls to Jaideep Patel (A-21), General Secretary of the VHP from the Mobile: 09825037439 belonging to the PA of the chief minister, AP Patel. Ironically, but not insignificantly, the PA’s (A.P. Patel) statement is the only one that the SIT has conspicuously avoided recording,. Statements of
five other officials from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) have been recorded.
Another PA, O.P. Singh, PA to chief minister, has had his statements recorded by the SIT twice on 9.11.2009 &  25.3.2011. In his reply to the SIT,
OP Singh clearly says that CM would regularly use his phone when he was out. To quote, “….Sometimes when the CM is out ….and is staying overnight and the calls are received on my mobile phone, I hand over the same to the CM after ascertaining his willingness to talk. Normally the CM talks over my mobile phone only when there is an extreme urgency.” The tragedy at Godhra was clearly one such where the Man who would be PM immediately sought out hardliners of the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) rather than policemen and officials after he first heard the news.
One more example of the SIT’s pliant approach:-
Q.57. Whether Jaydeep Patel, Babu Bajrangi and Dr. Mayaben Kodnani,
MLA were in touch with you during the riots from 28-2-2002 onwards?
Ans. I came to know Babu Bajrangi through media reports and he is
not known to me. Dr. Mayaben Kodnani is a MLA from BJP and used
to meet me Jaydeep Patel is a VHP leader, who is also known to me. As far
as I recollect, they never contacted me over phone during the riots.
In the analysis of phone records submitted by us to the SIT, there is a detailed analysis of the landline numbers of the chief minister.
Though the SIT had this evidence no harsh questions were put to the Man who would be Prime Minister. What was the evidence the SIT was in possession of ? That there were barely seven phone calls in toto on 27.2.2002 and 28.2.2002 on the seven residential and office landlines of the chief minister, A-1 Modi is not
questioned on this serious lapse given the fact that the state had been in
turmoil, Ahmedabad and its environs burning and the chief minister is not contacted by irate residents at all. How could a political head
of state records such few phone calls?  On those two days. Ahsan Jafri also kept contacting the Gandhinagar offices of the government, including the chief minister. The SIT not only does not question the Man who would be PM on this but does not even attempt to seize the phone records of the chief minister’s residence and office that should/could have been made available to a Special Investigation Team appointed by no less than the Supreme Court of India.
Post Script: Of the 7 calls received by the Man who would be PM on his landline one is from VJP strongman, Jaideep Patel is one of them.
The crux of our allegations of Conspiracy (already laid out as several warnings of the State Intelligence Bureau of communal build up by the VHP/Bajrang Dal and RSS cadres were being ignored by the state home department) began when the Man who would be PM spoke to Jaideep Patel immediately on hearing of the Godhra tragedy on the morning of 27.2.2002, dispatched him to Godhra, instead of instructing the police and bureaucratic machinery about the fall out and repercussions of the incident
and directing precautionary and preventive steps. Then the conspiracy went further as post mortems of the unfortunate dead were allowed out in the open, even with Jaideep Patel and later in the afternoon/evening the Man who would be PM, present. The final act of illegality was the decision taken at the every highest level of government, at the Circuit house in Godhra to hand over the bodies of the dead to none less than the same Jaideep Patel, a man who belongs to the VHP, even though many of them were unidentified. This amounted to not merely direct interference in the criminal case lodged by the railway police. It also set the stage for furthering of the cynical conspiracy to, in the words of the Concerned CitizensTribunal headed by Justice VR Krishna Iyer, PB Sawant and Hosbet Suresh. To quote from Volume II of the Tribunal Report, Crimes Against Humanity ( ) “ It was the chief minister who decided that the charred, unidentifiable dead bodies be taken from Godhra to Ahmedabad in a motor cavalcade. As the cavalcade headed for Ahmedabad, senior members of his party and organisations affiliated to it shouted slogans and incited mobs to retaliate. The CM’s role in condoning this behaviour, and in using official machinery to propagate the unsubstantiated view that the Godhra tragedy was a sinister conspiracy, is condemnable. Thus, it was the chief minister who was primarily responsible for the spread of violence, post-Godhra, in the rest of Gujarat.”
These questions have so far not been put to the Man who would be PM. Neither by any Investigating Agency nor any intrepid person from the Media.