Teesta Setalvad took part in many Karnataka movements Deccan Herald

28, Jun 2022 | Barkha Kumari

The human rights champion, arrested on Sunday, was a friend of Gauri Lankesh, and stood in solidarity with campaigners for communal harmony, say Bengaluru activists

Teesta Setalvad at a protest held in Bengaluru to condemn the killing of Gauri Lankesh. DH file photo
Teesta Setalvad at a protest held in Bengaluru to condemn the killing of Gauri Lankesh. DH file photo

Mumbai-based Teesta Setalvad, arrested on Sunday after a 2002 Gujarat riots case went in favour of Prime Minister Modi, has been a key participant in many movements in Karnataka for well over a decade.

The journalist-turned-human rights campaigner and Padma Shri awardee would visit Bengaluru often to support movements for civil rights, communal harmony and Constitutional values, say activists.

“Last month, Teesta came to Bengaluru on a personal visit. Some 20 activists and writers held an informal meeting with her on how to fight fascism,” activist and freelance journalist Shivasundar told Metrolife.

“One of the points was to explore the possibilities of setting up mohalla committees to thwart the danger of communal clashes,” he says, looking back on that meeting.

He also recalls her visits to Bengaluru when about 100 human rights organisations had launched a ‘Save Constitution’ movement through 2018 and 2019.

She also came to the city to attend the launch of her 2017 book ‘Foot Soldier of Indian Constitution: A Memoir’ in Kannada translation by Satya S.

The minorities in the state looked up to Teesta as one who stood with them during crises, says V S Sreedhara, professor of English and activist. She had once described herself as the daughter-in-law of Raichur during a state-level conference held there, he recalls vividly. Her husband Javed Anand has roots in Raichur, he says.

How it began

Teesta’s association with Karnataka began in 2008, when a shrine in Bababudangiri became the centre of a dispute.

The Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum), or KKSV for short, was rallying against the communalisation of a shrine there, long known for its syncretic heritage.

“She contacted some of us to write about our struggles in ‘Communalism Combat’ (a monthly magazine she ran with her husband),” recalls Sreedhara. She would later come to the Karnataka coastal belt for “fact-finding to publish what was happening there”.

“In 2008, a division bench of the Karnataka High Court gave an order in favour of a Hindutva organisation out to change the Bababudan dargah into a Dattatreya Devasthana. Teesta helped KKSV challenge the order in the Supreme Court. Her NGO also became the principal petitioner in the case,” says Shivasundar.

Gauri connection

Teesta came to know of Gauri Lankesh via KKSV and the two hit it off. “They were passionate about secular values. They were both journalists. They became thick friends,” says Sreedhara.

And so, when Gauri, editor-in-chief of ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’ and a critic of the Hindu right-wing, was shot dead in 2017, Teesta was devastated, he recalls.

She volunteered to become a member of the Gauri Memorial Trust and took over as its chair after the passing of freedom fighter H S Doreswamy, he adds.

The trust organised a huge programme in memory of Gauri on her birthday on January 29, 2018, attended by young leaders like Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar, whom she “admired”. “Teesta was instrumental in its success,” Shivasundar adds.

Teesta’s arrest on Sunday reminded Shivasundar of a phone call Gauri had made after the results of the 2014 general elections were announced: “Gauri was giving an interview in a TV studio when she heard that Narendra Modi had won and would become the prime minister. She came out of the studio in tears, called me and said ‘What will be the fate of Teesta now?’”

Teesta’s arrest

Teesta Setalvad was arrested by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on June 26 for ‘fabrication of evidence’ and ‘tutoring witnesses’ in a case related to the 2002 post-Godhra riots in which Narendra Modi was arraigned.

Teesta and her NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace were co-petitioners in a petition filed in the Supreme Court against Modi, chief minister of Gujarat then, and others.

The arrest came shortly after the apex court dismissed the petition and upheld the clean chit given by the Special Investigation Team to Modi. Protests broke out in Bengaluru and Kolkata soon after Teesta’s arrest.

The Working Group of Human Rights (WGHR) in India condemned her incarceration, dubbing it “an aggressive abuse of power and law by the state machinery”.

The original piece may be read here


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