Citing relevant verdicts of the High Court and Supreme Court and different petitions filed by Zakia Jafri in several courts, the charge sheet, according to a reputed daily, “has booked the three accused under sections 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 194 (submitting or fabricating false evidence with the intention of procuring conviction for capital offence), 211 (to institute criminal proceeding against a person or falsely charge him with committing an offence while knowing there is no just ground for such proceeding), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment) and 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.”
The charge sheet also claims that the riot-victims were forced by Setalvad to sign affidavits which were fabricated and because of the use of English, the language in which the declarations were drafted, was beyond the understanding of the witnesses of the riots. If the charges brought against the three, especially against Setalvad, are proven true, the civil society movement, movement for justice and the fight against communalism in India will receive a huge jolt. But the charge sheet itself smacks of malintent.
One cannot forget that while issuing the interim bail to Setalvad, the apex court made some important observations. On September 1 2022, the Supreme Court observed that the details of the case filed against Setalvad are sketchy. Two of the observations are indeed noteworthy. The SC categorically mentioned that though the accused was in custody for more than two months, no charge sheet was filed against her and that the FIR was also registered just after the Supreme Court dismissed Zakia Jafri’s plea against the closure report of the SIT that gave the present Prime Minister clean chit against a petition filed by Zafri seeking criminal trial of Modi and 62 other politicians and government officials on the ground of their involvement in Godhara riots.
The submission of the charge sheet in a hurry after Setalvad had been given bail would definitely raise many eyebrows. The timing of the FIR similarly makes the intention of the investigating body suspect. It is, of course, up to the apex court to decide on the merit of the charge sheet and one must have faith in the judiciary which has played a significant role in saving democracy and protecting human rights and dignity in post-Independent India.
However, one needs to point out that it is not the first time that allegations have been brought against Teesta Setalvad. In November 2004, she faced a similar kind of accusation. It was alleged that she had pressurized Zaheera Sheikh, the key witness in the Best Bakery case, to make false statements before the court that resulted in the transfer of the case outside Gujarat. In 2005, the Supreme Court gave Setalvad a clean chit in this case and booked Zaheera for perjury and put her behind bars for one year.
A Tehelka undercover investigation later claimed that Zaheera was actually bribed for altering her original statement and falsely accusing Teesta of putting pressure on her by “a close associate of Narendra Modi.” In fact, the report of the SIT was leaked in 2009 in which also Setalvad was accused of manipulating riot-victims by claiming to witness incidents that they had actually not seen. The leaking of such a high-profile report itself is suspicious and makes one question whether it was intentionally done to put pressure on the court and tarnish the image of someone who had been uncompromising in her fight against communalism as well as instrumental in bringing justice to many families of the victims of Godhara riots by obtaining the conviction of 119 civilians and officials (including a minister) for their involvement in the riots.
In fact, in today’s India, Teesta Setalvad needs to be booked as she has become the Indian face of human rights and the fight against communalism. She, by hook or crook, should be convicted to set an example for other dissenting voices, to make them learn that in a totalitarian state, one cannot question Big Brother. Observing whatever has been happening in India over the past few years, one is indeed reminded of Orwell’s classic 1984, in which, the protagonist Winston Smith is ultimately made to love Big Brother who through continuous surveillance succeeds in creating a reign of terror. Interestingly, a large part of 1984 is about the falsification of facts not by the plebeians but by the totalitarian state. In it, three party men are made to confess their involvement in a conspiracy against the state following which they are executed. A photograph, however, proves them innocent as they were in New York and not in the country at all to conspire against the state. But nobody dares to uphold the truth as in a totalitarian state such as Big Brother’s, in the end, Orwell writes, “the Party would announce that two and two mad five, and you would have to believe it.”
The original piece may be read here