08, Jun 2018 | CJP Team
CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad has been constantly targeted by a vindictive state using false cases, intimidation tactics and a vicious media campaign. This witch hunt is how they are punishing her for daring to speak up against the powerful perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat genocide. Now, we would like to set the record straight and this is our official statement on the spate of baseless allegations against Teesta Setalvad.
Who is Teesta Setalvad
Teesta Setalvad is a highly respected journalist, educationist and human rights defender. She is the recipient of the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours. She is one of the few activists to have openly challenged powerful perpetrators of the Gujarat anti-Muslim violence of 2002 in the courts. Many of these people have strong ties to right-wing supremacist groups and are now a part of the national government. Some of these people hold some of the most powerful political offices in India.
It was because of the work done by the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) of which Setalvad is the Secretary, that many of them could even be named in these cases. In fact, it was because of the legal aid provided by CJP that convictions of nearly 170 people could be secured in the Gujarat Riots cases. This is why the present regime in India has been trying to punish her by foisting a whole host of fake cases and false allegations upon her.
The Witch Hunt against Teesta Setalvad
While Teesta Setalvad has been hounded since 2004, her husband Javed Anand who is a journalist and human rights defender himself, was drawn into this maelstrom in 2015, shortly after a new government came to power at the centre and the vendetta intensified. Anand is an office bearer of CJP, a co-founder of Sabrang and Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy. What was first dictated by Gandhinagar (capital of Gujarat), is now being orchestrated and executed by New Delhi. Gujarat Police, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), have all been deployed against the human rights defenders who have carried on their struggle for justice despite this politically motivated hounding.
We are especially appalled at the predatory efforts to use any means, including the most profoundly foul ones, to somehow incarcerate Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand in one false case after another. What is stark about the campaign against Setalvad is the insistence of the Gujarat police, state government, and earlier even the Central government and federal agencies like the CBI on custodial interrogation, always an invitation to custodial torture. In Setalvad’s case, with the enmity of the powerful against her, there is a serious threat to her life.
Several prestigious international publications have published multiple reports on how the couple has been harassed and bullied by the government. In fact, even Frontline Defenders, a highly respected international organisation aimed at protecting human rights activists, has often come out in defence of Teesta Setalvad. The UN Special Rapporteurs have also expressed concerns about this hounding. The Higher Courts in India have also commented on the fact that the activists and their organisations have become targets of a vindictive regime, held to be responsible in 2002 for overseeing the massacre of India’s minorities.
We categorically state that all allegations of embezzlement, misappropriation, publishing communally inflammatory content, witness tutoring or filing of false affidavits … are all false and baseless.
Zahira Sheikh’s allegations
The first attack on Setalvad was in 2004 at the time of the hearing of the re-trial in the Best Bakery case when Zahira Sheikh, one of the star witnesses, was unfortunately lured into making accusations of kidnapping. Setalvad herself independently approached the Supreme Court for an inquiry into the allegations after which an Inquiry by the Registrar General of the SC, exonerated Setalvad and CJP. In fact, allegations brought about by Zahira Sheikh were found to be false and Zahira was charged with perjury for lying under oath.
Thereafter since 2010, after the Zakia Jafri case against the then chief minister and other powerful perpetrators gained traction, the attacks multiplied and accusations of witness tampering were made, all by a former, disgruntled employee. The allegations of witness tutoring are also false and malicious and none of them have been proven yet. In special trial court judgements in Sardapura, Naroda Patiya and Gulberg all allegations of perjury have not been proven. In fact the judgements have held that assisting witnesses through legal aid is in no way an interference in the course of justice.
Allegations of preparing False Affidavits
When it comes to the case about preparing affidavits for Gujarat riots survivors to make their plight sound more gruesome and shocking than their actual experience, the truth is that during the course of cross examination during trials all these witnesses were confronted with the so called false affidavits and they all admitted that they willingly swore the affidavits, purchased the stamp paper for executing them, the affidavits were prepared in their presence and read out to them in vernacular and that Teesta Setalvad was not even present when the affidavits were being prepared!
The Gulberg Embezzlement Case
The First Information Report (FIR) or police complaint in the so called embezzlement case has been countered by hundreds of witness survivors who have stood by Teesta Setalvad and CJP. The FIR of January 2014 has not yet resulted in a charge sheet despite the passage of over four years and despite the submission of over 20,500 pages of accounts and vouchers to the Crime Branch.
In the interest of due disclosure and transparency, Teesta Setalvad, CJP and Sabrang had their accounts re-audited and examined by prestigious auditors who have denied any embezzlement. In fact, even the Supreme Court has commented aloud on the need for custodial interrogation in the case given how all relevant documents have already been provided to investigative authorities.
The alleged FCRA violation
In the same year (2015) that the Gujarat Police failed to arrest Setalvad and Anand, thanks to the protection granted by the Supreme Court, the state launched one more witch hunt against the couple. Writing to the MHA, now under the same political dispensation that was in power in Gujarat during the genocidal carnage of 2002, the Gujarat Police goaded them into an investigation under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) against all three organisations run by the couple, viz. Sabrang Trust, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and Sabrang Communications.
For one whole week in June 2015, all the aforementioned organisations cooperated fully with the MHA, answered all queries and submitted all documents for scrutiny. The organisations also pointed out the malicious nature of the various cases foisted upon them. They also pointed out linkages between the powerful perpetrators of the riots and the chief complainant in each case, a disgruntled former employee.
Within weeks of this MHA visit, there were rumours in the media, that despite satisfying all requirements of investigation agencies, another case could be initiated by the CBI against one of the organisations. Setalvad and Anand wrote to the CBI offering full cooperation. Despite this the CBI that is directly under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) conducted raids on the properties of the organisations. This meant one more round of anticipatory bail applications to avoid custodial interrogation, an appeal that was luckily granted by the Bombay High Court.
The alleged Misappropriation of Funds
The misappropriation case with respect to Setalvad’s education NGO Khoj, is the most bizarre. It is alleged that Setalvad and Anand diverted funds obtained under a government scheme for personal use. Recently the police moved against Setalvad and Anand’s bail application stating the possibility of evidence tampering. However, the KHOJ project began in 2010 and got over well before Jan 2014 when the bank accounts were frozen due to false allegations in the Gulberg embezzlement case. The only evidence of the alleged embezzlement is in the bank accounts. If the accounts in question are frozen, how exactly can Setalvad tamper with evidence? This is clearly a ploy to get a chance for custodial interrogation of Setalvad, where they can use coercive tactics like ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or torture.
Then there is the absurd claim that Teesta Setalvad misused the funds to mix religion and politics and create communal tensions. Truth is that Setalvad and her NGOs have worked tirelessly to foster good relations between people of all communities. Setalvad was instrumental in setting up ‘mohalla’ or neighbourhood committees to ensure people of different communities co-exist in peace and harmony. The reading materials produced by any of Setalvad’s NGOs do not contain any communal or inflammatory content.
The Curious Case of Rais Khan
This brings us to the common thread binding all these false cases. They were all filed by a man named Rais Khan, a disgruntled ex-employee of CJP. Rais Khan, has, since 2010, thirty two months after he was discontinued from services of field coordinator of CJP, a remunerative post where rental accommodation was also provided, literally been forum shopping and at the root of several malicious and false cases against Setalvad.
Clearly, today Khan who enjoys the patronage of the regime in Delhi having been appointed to the Central Wakf Board also has senior counsel closely associated with the ruling party appearing for him. Since September 2010 his forum shopping has meant him approaching five trial courts specially hearing the Gujarat 2002 cases, the Nanavaty Shah Commission, the SIT and now the Crime Branch of the Gujarat police. In two judgments, in the Sardarpura matter and the Naroda Patiya matter, the judgments have passed remarks against Khan labelling his conduct as interference in the administration of justice.
Other forms of Harassment
Apart from the intimidation unleashed via a barrage of false cases, all insisting on custodial interrogation, a clear attempt to paralyse these human rights defenders and their organisations was made by an illegal freezing of personal and organisational bank accounts. The Supreme Court has, when approached to de-freeze these accounts, held that once investigation is over, the process can begin.
The state also purposely files cases in such a manner that Setalvad and Anand have to run from pillar to post to get bail in these false cases. For instance, in the KHOJ matter although the case should be based in Mumbai as this is where the offices of CJP and Sabrang are located, the case was purposely filed in Gujarat, forcing unnecessary travel whenever there is a bail hearing. Moreover, transit bail has to be sought from a Mumbai court to prevent arrest before Setalvad and Anand can reach and apply for bail before a Gujarat court. This is an extremely vicious form of harassment!
Attempts are made to prevent Teesta Setalvad from travelling abroad because the perpetrators are afraid that she will lay threadbare the dismal human rights record of the present regime before the international community! Recently, when Setalvad was invited to travel to Canada and the United States, the state moved to have her grounded. Luckily the Supreme Court gave Setalvad protection from arrest and further harassment during the period of her travel.
Setalvad has had to seek protection against arrest eight times and face nine malicious cases. The attempt is clearly to hound and paralyse them physically and impact their path-breaking human rights work.
In addition to this witch hunt, there is also a media trial run by publications and networks close to the government. A malicious propaganda has been unleashed by them where they only report and publish one sided stories. These stories are worded in a manner that vilifies Setalvad and discredits her work.
Nevertheless, she persisted
But despite the constant hounding, bullying and harassment, Setalvad has not given up. In fact, she has taken up the challenge with renewed vigour and expanded the scope of her human rights initiatives to include indigenous people, ethnic and religious minorities, oppressed castes, disabled people, women, children and LGBTQIA people. There are also active campaigns related to freedom of speech and criminal justice reforms.
We are fighting for the rights of Dalit Activists like Chandrashekhar Azad who have been incarcerated under trumped up charges. We are fighting to have false cases against Adivasi forest workers dropped in in Sonebhadra in Uttar Pradesh where they have led a long and peaceful struggle for land rights. Our Four Pillars include Minority Rights, Child Rights, Criminal Justice Reforms and Freedom of Expression. You can read more about our work here.
It is because of our genuine commitment to secularism, social harmony and justice, that we enjoy the continued support of our trustees who include some of the most respected journalists, industrialists and civil society voices in India. The support for human rights defender, Teesta Setalvad and her team comes from to hundreds of thousands of Indians who have stood by us and encouraged in our mission to build a more equal, harmonious and empowered India.
Anil Dharker (President, CJP) Nandan Maluste (Vice President, CJP)
Cyrus Guzder (Trustee, CJP) Teesta Setalvad (Secretary)