Why Are They Hounding Teesta Setalvad Now?
By K.P. Sasi
09 August, 2015
A protest in Bangalore in defence of Teesta Setalvad
The first time I met Javed Anand was in the early eighties. I met him since my close friend Paul Kurien used to admire the significance of his work. Javed used to be part of a documentation centre at that time. Paul Kurien who was a brilliant mind is a deep memory even now for many common friends. I found Javed as a deeply reflective person, who is extremely focused in his work, warm and compassionate. Later I came to know that he had joined the Times of India as a journalist and he had a partner called Teesta Setelvad who was also working as a journalist. After that I had various occasions to meet them individually as well as together in different places. I must confess that each meeting was inspiring for me as much as their relentless work, which made me an admirer of their dedication and passion.
When two senior journalists, Teesta Setelvad and Javed Anand left a well paid job and started a magazine called Communalism Combat, I never knew, that such a bold decision would become one of the greatest historical decisions of their personal lives which would connect the lives of millions of people later in this country – those who keep aspiring for a consistent dream of two words called `Secular India’ enshrined in the Indian Constitution. I never knew then, that their efforts would become such a prominent symbol in some of India’s greatest fights to preserve justice, peace and harmony in direct conflict with those machineries who play with the lives of millions of people using religion as a tool.
The historic step of starting Communalism Combat was motivated by the violence which Javed and Teesta witnessed on the minority communities in Mumbai in 1992-93, immediately after the demolition of Babari Masjid. Sometimes, certain incidents can change your life altogether for the rest of your life. When Mumbai burnt, even some of the secular sections tried to protect their securities, instead of raising their voices for a secular India. But a few of them expressed enormous courage to face the insecurities. Javed and Teesta decided to leave their well paid jobs to face insecurities using their skills. With no salaries coming from their skills they initiated the effort of Communalism Combat in a shed in Juhu.
Those who have burnt their fingers with alternative magazines can easily tell that starting a non-mainstream magazine without any proper financial backing is a difficult job. When the struggle to run the magazine as well as running a family became too difficult, Shabana Azmi stepped in for help. She organised some support for this crucial work by performing the play , Tumhari Amrita. From the days of their total insecurities till today, if any objective analysis on the volume of work they have undertaken, it could easily be found out that the work of Teesta and Javed were absolute healing touches on the promise of secular India by the Indian Constitution. If the new generation of activists wish to know how to stretch one’s 24 hours of a day into 48 hours for committed and dedicated hard work for a cause, they may study the lives of Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. But it is not an accident that fight against the violence in Mumbai and Gujarat stepped into their lives. It was a historical necessity of secular political consciousness in this country.
Only July 8, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) carried out searches at various premises linked to Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. On July 24, immediately after the CBI court rejecting her anticipatory bail plea, the Bombay High Court extended Teesta’s interim bail for two weeks. The present CBI harassment on them amounts to a deep loss of faith of millions of people in this country, on the role of CBI and how it is being used by the perpetrators of violence, For all those who have seriously cared to look into the work of Teesta and Javed, rather than tarnishing the image of Teesta and Javed, it is the image of CBI that is being tarnished. The test is not on Teesta and Javed. It is on the CBI to prove that it is an impartial agency. As far as Javed and Teesta are concerned, their test is also owned up by a large section of people all over the country by coming out on streets in support of them.
For any intelligent person in this country, when they enter into a discourse on `Why Teesta’, the most relevant question is also `Why Teesta Now?’ Teesta and Javed have been actively involved on the issues related to communal violence for more than two decades. The Indian State did not target them for their work till they entered Gujarat genocide of 2002, which happened during the Chief Ministership of Narendra Modi who is now the Prime Minister of India. The targeting began from 2004 onwards as a reaction to many legal activities they undertook for justice for the victims and survivors of Gujarat violence. But the present scenario is different.
Many organisations all over the country have strongly condemned the blatant hounding of Teesta Setelwad, Javed Anand and their associate Gulam Mohammed Peshimam. Many organisations have already held public protests demanding Narendra Modi Government to stop targeting Teesta. Condemning the misuse of CBI by the Government, Committee for Protection of Human Rights (CPDR) stated: `The first year of BJP rule has been marked by brutal bulldozing of all forms of dissent. While the plank for attacking NGOs was whether the foreign funds received by them violated FCRA regulations, the government is selective in targeting only those organisations who oppose their agenda.’ As per the motive of this harassment, the statement spelt out: `These activists are actively pursuing the Zakia Jafri case and the Naroda Patiya appeals among many others related to the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom.’
The connection between the timing of the final hearings of the Zakia Jafri case and the present harassment on Teesta and Javed is too crucial. When the human rights activists fight for justice for victims and survivors, they are forced to spend their time and energy in defending their human rights instead of the victims and survivors they represent. The transition from the status of human rights defender to human rights victim is something which happened to many people in this country during the short regime of Modi’s rule.
Jagdish G. Chandra addressing the protest meeting in defence of Teesta in Bangalore
It is not just Teesta being hounded for fighting for justice. Gujarat special judge Jyotsana Yagnik , who presiding over a designated court for the trial of the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case convicted 32 persons including former minister Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, had stated in May this year that she has received 22 death threats since retirement. Her security cover was not enhanced, but scaled down. In her judgment Jyotsana Yagnik had termed Maya Kodnani as the ‘kingpin’ of the massacre and sentenced to 28-year imprisonment, whereas Bajrangi was ordered to stay behind bars for entire life. It is an irony that Maya Kodnani is now walking free by getting bail on flimsy grounds while Teesta and others are being hounded for fighting for justice for the riot victims.
The activists following this issue state that the harassment on Teesta can be understood more precisely, when AK Sharma who was the joint CP in Crime Branch in Gujarat, also one of the accused by Zakia Jafri for the cold blooded murder of her husband Ehsan Jafri, is pushed to a prime position in CBI today. The theory of vengeance on Teesta has such strong circumstantial evidences.
As a response to these realities, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has demanded :
1) The Parliament of India to enact a comprehensive legislation protecting the human rights defenders and whistle blowers, who are always at the receiving end for seeking execution of constitutional rights and demanding accountability from the State.
2) To keep CBI as an independent agency free from interference of all political powers.’
When the fabricated cases were registered against Teesta and Javed, they used the legal machineries fight them effectively. Usually, ordinary activists can easily get tired in such processes. When the State failed to suppress their voices, the cheapest trick was to use character assassination to generate negative publicity against the popularity of Teesta and Javed.
It is an age old practice used in politics right from the smallest entrant in politics to political party leaders at the national level, to use character assassination as a strategy to deal with their political opponents. The strategy is: If you cannot deal with the political questions raised by your political opponents, then use personal slander on them. Such character assassination has been done on many committed significant personalities in the past. Medha Patkar, SP Udayakumar, leaders of the anti-POSCO movement and many others have been victimised several times on such grounds before. And if the State uses institutions like CBI for character assassination on dedicated activists, one must assume that Teesta and Javed have reached a level of success in their work to such an extent that even the state machinery can not deal with their questions. Teesta Setalvad has thus become the biggest thorn on Modi’s foot today which he is struggling to deal with and observers rightly feel that they deserve a more decent treatment.
Morally speaking, it should have been the role of the opposition parties to undertake the role of a sustained struggle for justice for the victims and survivors of communal violence in this country. Even if they could not do that job, the minimum they should be doing is to organise strong protests against the victimisation of human rights activists like Teesta. But it is a significant section of other like minded groups and human rights activists all over India which is doing this job and the opposition parties are still lagging behind. If democracy has to sustain, the political parties will have to play a more positive role in situations like this.
The CBI claimed that Teesta and Javed are a `threat to national security’. Here, the question is who the nation is and whose security is affected? Any look into their activities will tell us that their activities affected the perpetrators and criminals of violence and this lot can not be allowed to be defined as nation and their insecurity can not be undertaken as a matter of concern for national security.
Against all the harassment of the machineries of the central Government, Teesta had openly stated that explanations consisting of around 25,000 pages have already been given as reply for all allegations. So the idea of the Government appears to be simple. Instead of running Communalism Combat, let them write these explanations.
If foreign fund is the issue, then the Prime Minister and the ministers all over the country should not be travelling abroad consistently to welcome foreign funds in the process of offering this country for the multinational corporations. If foreign fund is the issue then the ideal ground for the CBI should be looking into the millions of dollars received by people like Mata Amritanandamayi, Ravi Shankar and many other God men as well as bodies of Vishva Hindu Parishad as well as other organisations under the control of Sangh Parivar. CBI could have easily investigated the thousands of crores of rupees Narendra Modi received during his election campaign. I do not have to go into the list of financial scams of thousands of crores during the present regime. But that big money is different. And the small money which comes for NGOs which work actively on human rights issues is xplained as a threat. A threat for whom? Not for the nation, but for the ruling elites! The real issue seems to be what Teesta dreamt of using the money for and not the money itself. If Teesta Setelvad dreams to build a museum for the victims and survivors of Gujarat genocide, and if the Indian state believes that such activities should be blocked on financial grounds, then thousands of ordinary people in this country will whole heartedly support her dream with their savings. It appears that the Government machineries have made a gross under estimation on their political calculators.
The process of Indian State transforming itself into an Emergency type of State became so apparent within the civil society from the targeting of Binayak Sen onwards. Targeting of human rights activists and suppressing dissent had already started before Modi became the Prime Minister. Human rights activists have been calling it with terms like Silent Emergency or Undeclared Emergency. In real terms, what Narendra Modi did in this short period of rule was to speed up this process of crushing dissent, crossing all constitutional and democratic norms. But what the civil society did not really imbibe is that the same voice of fear of people, was also articulated by none other than the leader of BJP and the former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani himself. Advani had spent his time in jail during Emergency. Modi hasn’t. It is not a human rights activist who is telling now that the Indian State is transforming itself into an Emergency type of State under Modi’s rule. It is Narendra Modi’s senior leader with the experience of Emergency, giving him a warning.
This warning has to be taken seriously not just by the Modi camp, but also the entire media which has a responsibility to look after their own interests, by not lying down under the feet of the Emperor when asked to kneel down. Media has a different role to play as the keeper of consciousness and as a pillar of democracy. And remember, what Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand did was also to play this role as editors of Communalism Combat, a role that mainstream media till today could not perform properly. It was through Communaism Combat that Javed and Teesta tried hard to bring out facts on the violence in Gujarat. What a section of mainstream media did by publishing some positive reports for justice for the victims and survivors of Gujarat genocide was more or less to follow people like Teesta. What is interesting is that after Teesta and Javed left the mainstream media to do this immense historical work, their work also forced even the mainstream media like the Times of India to follow their work as important sources for information. Now, taking the cue from LK Advani, it is time that even the mainstream media should work for freedom of expression, if not to protect human rights activists, but at least to protect their own interests.
Today, Teesta Setalvad has become a symbol of human rights in India. For if Teesta Setalvad is imprisoned, any human rights activist or group can be imprisoned on any grounds. And if human rights activists are silenced, justice for the minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised communities and thousands of people’s movements will become a distant dream. It is so apparent that the Indian State is in a conscious effort to clean up: To build a `Swatch Bharat’ where there is no dissent! Watch your doorstep!
K.P. Sasi is an eminent film director and Associate editor of Countercurrents.org
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