Tuesday, May 31, 2011

God Bless, Teesta

(Front page editorial in May 24th edition of Delhi's Urdu daily, Jadeed Mail)

Once again all kinds of shenanigans are at work against well-known civil society activist, Teesta Setalvad. Just when Teesta and her organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace have reached a point in their battle for justice when incriminating evidence has begun piling up against the Gujarat government for the carnage of 2002, she is sought to be implicated in all kinds of charges. Teesta's struggle for justice for the victims-survivors of the 2002 mass killings in Gujarat, the courage and grit with which she has almost single-handedly taken on a person like Narendra Modi has no parallel in the history of post-Independence India.  

Narendra Modi is the man who stands accused of the mass murder of thousands of innocents. And the credit of putting together the most comprehensive account of this genocidal act in Gujarat in 2002 goes to none other than Teesta Setalvad. Be it the Best Bakery case, the Gulberg Society case in Ahmedabad (where former MP Ehsan Jafri and dozens of others were done to death), or the case of the unceremonious dumping of victims in Pandharwada, Teesta not only uncovered the truth behind these but also brought them to the attention of the highest court in the land.

It is thanks to her indomitable courage and unrelenting efforts that those who had kept silent all these years are at last also coming out with the truth. Gujarat's senior police officer Sanjiv Bhatt has recently filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court. In it he has stated that he was present at the meeting called by chief minister Narendra Modi (on February 27, 2002) where on the eve of the mass killings Modi had directed the police: "Let Muslims be taught a lesson, let Hindus express their anger". Incidentally, Bhatt has filed this affidavit in the Gulberg Society case which is being pursued by Teesta'a organisation in the apex court.

In short, in the aftermath of the killings in Gujarat, many civil society organisations have fought, and continue to fight, for justice. And everyone engaged in this struggle for justice has had to face many difficulties and hurdles. But it is Teesta alone who has not only given sleepless nights to Modi but has also brought him to a point where he now seems to be afraid of her.

What does a tyrant do when he begins to be apprehensive of someone? His first thought is to get his potential nemesis out of the way. Modi is charged with having got his former friend and BJP minister, Haren Pandya killed. There could therefore be a danger to Teesta's life too. The fallback option before leaders like Modi is to discredit their opponent, implicate them in all kinds of cooked up charges so that willy-nilly they are forced to focus on their own self-defence instead of persevering with the struggle for justice. This is exactly what is being attempted with Teesta these days. A Yasmin Shaikh files an affidavit in the Bombay High Court years after the judgment in the Best Bakery case to claim that Teesta had forced her into giving false evidence in the trial court. In the Pandharwada mass graves case, Teesta's own former colleague Rais Khan has been goaded into complaining that Teesta had forced him into filing a false affidavit.

The path to justice is invariably thorny and treacherous. Teesta cannot but be aware that the path she has chosen for herself is full of peril. But the issue at present is not that of Teesta alone. The question is, if something happens to Teesta what will be the fate of the battle for justice that Teesta has been leading from the front both in and out of court? It is perhaps this very concern that prompted respected civil society actors to assemble in Mumbai yesterday to form a committee named "Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat". The retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice PB Sawant is its president while former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta and Asghar Ali Engineer are its vice-presidents. The other committee members include historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, Dr Ram Puniyani, Juzar Bandukwala and several other prominent Indians.

All these persons are concerned with what will happen to the justice process in Gujarat if something happens to Teesta. That is why they formed the above mentioned committee in Mumbai yesterday and declared that they would take all possible steps to keep citizens informed and provide all necessary help to Teesta.

Jadeed Mail heartily welcomes the formation of this committee in defence of Teesta and declares its fullest support to it. Teesta's is a powerful voice against communalism. Jadeed Mail opposes all attempts to falsely implicate her and appeals to all pro-justice people in every city and town to speak out in support of Teesta. It also appeals to them to write to the powers that be and demand adequate protection to her. We are confident that none can do any harm to this extraordinarily courageous woman and that her battle for justice in Gujarat will succeed in achieving its goal.  


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