A life less ordinary
Following the rejection of her anticipatory bail in a cheating case and the intervention of the Supreme Court, Malavika Sangghvi writes to human rights activist Teesta Setalvad
I write this on a day when the Supreme Court has had to step in and stay your arrest by deferring the hearing on your anticipatory bail plea till February 19, after the Gujarat High Court had rejected your petition for anticipatory bail and a posse of police from Gujarat arrived at your home this week.
Yesterday, when one of your supporters expressed concern about your imminent arrest, somehow, without any real evidence to the contrary, I assured him that nothing would happen and that you would not be arrested.
I did this only from a gut feeling that justice would prevail and that one of the most courageous human rights icons of our time would be spared the ignominy of being arrested in a cheating case!
The thing is Teesta, even though we share so many things in common — having grown up in Mumbai, that too in its leafy suburb of Juhu and having attended the same university and entered journalism at around the same time — our paths have seldom converged.
From a very early stage, you opted out of mainstream media to pursue your interests in human and civil rights activism, founding, amongst other things, Communalism Combat and Citizens for Justice and Peace.
But of course, it is for your role in the Gujarat carnage that you have been most known. From 2002 till now, you have stood unshaken like a wraith, your haunting eyes a reminder of all the lives lost in one of the great blots of communal violence and hate crimes.
Through all the intricacies of the court battles to bring justice to the victims in the Best Bakery and Gulbarg society cases, through the ascension of Modi from Gujarat CM to India’s Prime Minister, feted on the international stage, through the triumphalism and hurrahs of an India all set to become a world super power and a utopia of right wing policies and practices, you have stood unmoved, unrelenting, reminding us of the sins against humanity that all the perfumes of Arabia cannot wash away.
And for this, your life has been turned upside down. Daily court cases to fight; witnesses to protect against threats and bribes; your motives and personal integrity questioned; and what’s worst of all, as a measure of the State’s dirty tricks department, you have been accused of cheating and misappropriation of funds of the very people that you have dedicated your life to empowering!
Of course, this does not mean your acts of selfless dedication and altruism have not been recognised nationally and internationally either. From the Padma Shri in 2007 to the International Nuremberg Human Rights Award, the Defender of Democracy Award by Parliamentarians for Global Action, the 2004 M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award from the Vigil India Movement, The Nani A Palkhivala Award, The Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding woman journalist, the Maharana Mewar Foundation’s Hakim Khan Sur Award, the Human Rights Award of the Dalit Liberation Education Trust and the Pax Christi International Peace Award, you have been recognised for your acts of human rights activism.
I began this letter by stating that we share a somewhat similar background as far as education, early choice of profession and place of residence, etc, are concerned, but there is one significant difference, Teesta: whereas you embraced a life of activism and political discourse, I, growing up in a household of too much activism and political struggle, wearied of it all and opted out of it.
So while you stood there, fighting the good fight, taking the blows, never giving in, never giving up, I went about my life trying to live it away from all of that, in the pursuit of ordinary days and ordinary ways and in inner peace and harmony.
Except of course, on a few occasions, such as this one when I turn my back on all of that and enter the fray by writing you this letter of support and admiration!
But then rules are meant to be broken, right? Here’s wishing you a Sunday spent in ordinary peace, happiness and yes — freedom and dignity!
With every good wish, etc,