01, Jul 2022 | CJP Team
On July 2, it will be exactly a week since Teesta Setalvad, one of India’s most formidable and resilient human rights defenders, was targeted and held captive by a vindictive regime. But as is evident in the burgeoning support for her, both online and on the streets, you may put Teesta Setalvad behind bars, you cannot cage her courage, which is even today inspiring countless others.
The shocking events of June 25, 2022
Just a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a Special Leave Petition (PIL) moved by Zakia Jafri seeking a proper investigation into the wider conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat carnage, a team of the Gujarat Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) barged into her Mumbai home and detained her.
The petition had been moved by Zakia Jafri, the widow of slain Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Ehsan Jafri, who had been killed during the communal violence in Gulberg Society. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) secretary Teesta Setalvad was the second petitioner in the case that aimed to pin the responsibility of allowing the violence to continue unabated on the people in power in Gujarat at the time.
CJP stands in solidarity with the human rights defenders targeted by a vindictive state. A healthy democracy needs voices of dissent. We also need human rights defenders and social activists to work tirelessly to uphold our shared values of equality, peace and justice. Join CJP now!
But deeming this to be a malicious prosecution, the court had observed in its judgment, “As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.”
The above extract was quoted in a complaint filed on behalf of the State, and today, Teesta Setalvad, a fearless human rights defender stands accused of criminal conspiracy, forgery and giving or fabricating false evidence among other IPC sections. Two former police officers, RB Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt have also been named as her co-conspirators in the FIR. While Bhatt is already in jail under trumped-up charges in a custodial death case, Sreekumar was arrested shortly after Setalvad was picked up.
Setalvad says she was roughed up as she was picked up from her Mumbai home and taken to the Santacruz police station. At about 5:30 P.M, just before being whisked away to Ahmedabad, Setalvad filed a hand written complaint with the Santacruz Police Station saying Police Inspector JH Patel of the ATS Ahmedabad and a lady officer in civil clothes came into her bedroom and assaulted her when she demanded to speak to her lawyer. Setalvad says that she was not shown the First Information Report (FIR) or a warrant till her lawyer arrived.
In her complaint, Setalvad has also stated that the assault left her with a bruise on her left hand, and that she feared for her life.
In Ahmedabad, Setalvad was formally arrested, and taken for a mandatory medical test on Sunday June 26, before being produced before a magistrate. She was remanded to police custody and her next hearing will take place on June 2.
Teesta Setalvad doing okay in custody
Teesta Setalvad’s activist-journalist husband Javed Anand has met her twice so far. “I met her just before they took her for the mandatory medical check-up. She appeared fine,” he said about meeting her on June 28. “She has no complaints about the food and is also sleeping okay. When I meet her, it is in a room with a table and chair, with police personnel nearby,” he added.
On June 29, he told us, “I met her again today and she told me that she had been questioned by the police for around four hours yesterday.” Setalvad is also being allowed to meet her lawyers. “She seemed relaxed. I was allowed to give her some books for light reading, and some other essential items. She asked me for a copy of The Framing of the Indian Constitution,” said the activist-journalist who co-founded the magazine Communalism Combat as well as SabrangIndia with his human rights defender wife.
Setalvad will now be presented before the magistrate’s court at 2:30 P.M on July 2.
Support from Human Rights groups
The Working Group of Human Rights in India and the United Nations (WGHR) on June 27, 2022 expressed deep concern about the arrest of member Teesta Setalvad by the Government of India.
“It reflects an aggressive abuse of power and law by the State machinery, in grave breach of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to citizens under the Indian Constitution. This turn of events has also raised questions about the Government’s commitments to human rights and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), not just domestically but also at the global level,” said the WGHR in a statement.
Many notable Indian activists such as People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) General Secretary V. Suresh, National Association of People’s Movements (NAPM) Convenor Medha Patkar, former Navy Chief Admiral Ramdas, former Lucknow University Vice Chancellor Rooprekha Verma, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) founder Aruna Roy, Carnatic musician TM Krishna, actor and dancer Mallika Sarabhai, writer and scholar Shabnam Hashmi, poet Gauhar Raza, and over 2,200 others signed a statement condemning the government’s prosecution of the activist and former IPS officers.
They say, “The state has now used the observations made in the judgment to falsely and vindictively prosecute those who had struggled for justice even in the face of state callousness and complicity. It is truly an Orwellian situation of the lie becoming the truth, when those who fought to establish the truth of what happened in the Gujarat genocide of 2002 are being targeted.”
“We condemn this naked and brazen attempt to silence and criminalize those who stand for constitutional values and who have struggled against very difficult odds to try to achieve justice for the victims of 2002. We demand that this false and vindictive FIR be taken back unconditionally and Teesta Setalvad and others detained under this FIR be released immediately,” said signatories.
Previously, Elaine Pearson, the Acting Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) had urged governments at the G-7 summit that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attending at present to raise questions about Setalvad’s arrest. HRW has released a statement saying, “The Indian authorities should immediately release the prominent human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, drop all charges against her & stop their relentless attacks against her.”
“These arrests are clearly reprisals for pursuing justice for victims of the Gujarat riots and attempting to hold those who were in power accountable,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
This is yet another example of international support for Setalvad after Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders demanded Setalvad’s release saying, “Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime.”
Similarly, international humanitarian organisation Amnesty’s India unit, that has itself faced persecution on trumped up pertaining to obtaining foreign funds, had also called Setalvad’s arrest “a direct reprisal against those who dare to question their human rights record,” and said, “It sends a chilling message to the civil society & further shrinks the space for dissent in the country.”
Journalists demand justice for Teesta Setalvad
Closer home, the Mumbai Press Club has condemned the human rights defender’s arrest saying that she has been made a scapegoat “in a chilling process of vendetta unleashed by the executive and the judiciary.” They have further said, “It is unacceptable that a person who has been fighting for civil justice should be accused of fabricating evidence and misleading the Special Investigation Team.” Calling for an end to the “politics of vengeance”, they have also demanded that all charges be dropped against Setalvad and she be released immediately.
In a joint statement, the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) condemned the “ugly and motivated, hasty arrest” of Setalvad. NAJ President S. K. Pande and DUJ General Secretary Sujata Modhak among others said, “The arrests smack of an increasingly visible undeclared Emergency that is increasingly becoming visible in continued attacks not only on the freedom of the press but on the democratic rights of citizens which are being bulldozed. Simultaneously, the police seem to be increasingly utilised in witch-hunting of selected persons.”
“The ATS’s dubious explanation at the time that Setalvad was not arrested but detained for questioning also holds no water. A 60-year-old activist with strong roots in the community, Setalvad is not a flight risk and should be questioned by female officers in her home as per law,” said the NWMI in a press statement.
Support from groups and individuals opposing NRC-CAA
Dr. Hiren Gohain, a noted Assamese intellectual who has been at the forefront of the demand to scrap the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Assam has also come out in support of Teesta Setalvad given how CJP teams have been working tirelessly in Assam to provide legal and paralegal aid to Indian citizens in need in Assam.
CJP had not only helped over 12 lakh Indians fill out NRC application forms, we have also assisted over 50 people in getting released from detention centres during the Covid-19 pandemic in accordance with orders passed by the Supreme Court and the Gauhati High Court. Dr. Gohain has expressed “deep shock” at the “bewildering turn of events that have led to the shocking arrest of noted human rights activist Teesta Setalvad on fantastic charges of wilful and malicious pursuit of subverting justice, implicating innocents in grave crimes to ruin their reputation with forgery and fraud, and exploiting sentiments of victims of spontaneous riots and violence.”
The Joint Forum against NRC has also issued a statement condemning the arrest calling it a “naked act of political vendetta” and condemned how “the complainants are now being accused of conspiracy and being persecuted.” Hailing Teesta Setalvad for her “relentless crusade against perpetrators of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002”, they also praised “her role in defence of those incarcerated in detention centres and the vulnerable NRC-excluded people in Assam” calling it “inspiring”.
In a recent press statement released in wake of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, the Press Club of India said, “We also see the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad as very disturbing as it also smacks of vendetta.”
Public meetings and protests
Meanwhile public meetings and peaceful protests are being organized across the country everyday. Protests were held in Kolkata, Bangalore, Varanasi, Patna, Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Ranchi, Ajmer, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Lucknow, Allahabad, Chandigarh, Chennai, Dhulia, Raipur etc.
On June 28, in a beautiful example of women supporting women, over 500 Adivasi women with their children from UP’s Sonebhadra district, came together to condemn the shocking arrest of Teesta Setalvad. The protest was called by All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) and the union’s president Sokalo Gond expressed solidarity with Setalvad.
Gond said, “We condemn the Gujarat government for arresting Teesta Setalvad. We stand with her. We will stand with her whenever necessary.” Readers would recall that when Sokalo Gond had been arrested on trumped-up charges, merely for leading the grassroots movement for community forest rights, it was Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) under Setalvad that assisted the AIUFWP to secure her release.
On June 30, 2022, a newly launched broad-based alliance Solidarity for the Prisoners of Conscience in India expressed solidarity with Setalvad saying, “What the present government is doing is “Governance by Fear” in its rawest form.”
Similarly, Bangla Sanskriti Manch, working with Bengali speaking migrant workers voiced solidarity with Setalvad. Her organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had delivered food to thousands of starving workers in Mumbai during Covid-19.
“It is astonishing to think that national politics is becoming so vicious that a real philanthropist and human rights activist has been trapped in a false case and taken in custody. But no Opposition political party has really opposed this ultimate state oppression,” said the Manch in a press release.
Odisha’s citizens gathered in the capital city of Bhubaneswar on June 30, 2022 to condemn the “naked attack” on dissent. Students, youth, women, intellectuals, journalists, political activists and lawmakers joined the protest on Thursday, called by various democratic and human rights organisations. Led by senior journalist Ravi Das, Prof. Birendra Nayak, eminent environmentalist Prafulla Samantara amongst others, the civic protest decried the BJP-led central government’s attack on dissent and democratic rights.
Others at the protest were Equality Council member Abhiram Mallick, journalist Sudhir Patnaik, Professor Vijay Bahidar, human rights lawyer Vishwapriya Kanungo, columnist Amiya Pandav, Revolutionary Women’s Organization’s Pramila Behera, All India Students’ Union State leader Sanghamitra Jena, Democratic Rights Protection Organization’s Debranjan, All India People’s Forum’s Banshidhar Parida, National Hawkers’ Federation’s Jayant Das, social activists Sasmita Jena, Srimanta Mohanty, Sandeep Patnaik, researcher Nigmananda Sarangi, social activists Kalyan Anand, Bishwanath Patra, Manas Patnaik, Samajwadi Party’s Sudarshan Pradhan, Eju Aamir Khan, etc.
This includes anti-Jindal Spokesperson Prashant Paikray who asked, “If Setalvad is arrested for fighting for the victims then what about us activists who speak for local villagers? We all are anti-nationals and they alone [the ruling regime] are nationalists?”
Many political leaders from various opposition parties have also come out in support of Teesta Setalvad:
Among politicians, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has called out the regime’s “habit of targeting opponents and infringing on civil liberties”.
W’out entering into the merits or any specifics of the case (which we must leave to the courts to decide), I deplore GoI’s habit of targeting opponents& infringing on civil liberties, of which the arrest of @TeestaSetalvad is the latest example. India’s democracy is our strength!
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) June 26, 2022
Similarly, CPI (M) Politburo member Brinda Karat also came out in support of Setalvad and called her arrest a “very vindictive action” by the regime. She warns that such actions are an “ominous threat to all democratic citizens” who dare to question the role of authorities in the spread of communal violence.
Comrade Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau Member of the CPI(M) speaks on arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad. pic.twitter.com/SnjlLTWis8
— CPI (M) (@cpimspeak) June 26, 2022
Mehbooba Mufti, president of the JKPDP was appalled that the SC judgment was being “being used to punish the seekers of justice.”
Appalled that standing with the victims has been criminalised & asking for justice is equated with hatching conspiracies. To make matters worse, this judgement which should’ve served a closure is instead being used to punish the seekers of justice. https://t.co/sVOFblnKhn
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) June 26, 2022
Jignesh Mevani too, who was recently himself targeted by a vindictive regime, tweeted, “Teesta Setalvad is paying the price for upholding truth. She has always stood for the poor & marginalized, fought against Human Right violations across the country. But those that act against the interest of the poor are roaming free. This is New India!”
#TeestaSetalvad is paying the price for upholding truth. She has always stood for the poor & marginalized, fought against Human Right violations across the country. But those that act against the interest of the poor are roaming free. This is New India! #TeestaSetalvadArrested
— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) June 26, 2022
Image Courtesy: jantakareporter.com