Thursday, November 29, 2012

‘It is very lonely to fight for justice’

Teesta Setalvad dug her heels in and fought for justice for 10 years. She talks to Shoma Chaudhury about the Naroda Patiya verdict and the personal cost of a struggle.


What is the most significant gain in the verdict?
The number of convictions — 32 — which is the highest ever and the fact that the conviction has gone beyond the footsoldier and neighbourhood perpetrators to the political masterminds and instigators; people who enjoyed the highest political patronage.
Has this sent out a message that justice can be had in Gujarat?
I feel it has sent out a very strong message, that the justice system can work if certain preconditions are met. For example, if the apex court monitors the case with attention — takes an interest in the appointments, how the case is conducted, and makes sure it is not derailed. In this case there was a Special Court appointed with a special judge. Witness protection was given to all victims-witnesses by the central paramilitary forces. That is a very important factor. Then, there is the day-to-day legal assistance we managed to provide to the victims and eye-witnesses. These are very complex cases; the legal process is not easy for a layperson to understand. It’s very important that you exercise your right under section 24 (8) (2), which allows victims-witnesses to have their own advocate. If all these pre-conditions are met, yes, a very strong message is sent out that justice can be done. But, we can’t be glib about it. It is rare to get a Supreme Court-monitored trial, get protection at the highest level for victims and you incur the emotional and material cost of providing for them legally.
Why did you get involved?
My association with Gujarat goes back to 1998, when I started covering it as a journalist. One had started foreseeing that something awful was building up. We already had the ‘92-93 Bombay riots behind us and we had got into advocacy trying to get the Srikrishna Committee report published. After the Gujarat riots, I was so enraged, I said let’s see if we can fight and if this country can ever give justice to victims. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CPJ) was formed in April 2002 because we realised one needed support. Vijay Tendulkar was our founder President, IM Kadri was on board; there was a bunch of others — Cyrus Guzder, Rahul Bose, Alyque Padamsee, Ghulam Pesh Iman, Javed and myself. It’s important to have such a group behind you so you are not entirely alone because there are high emotional and mental costs. One had to lay oneself open to several allegations, none of which were proven, yet they are floating around in the public domain.
What do you make of the SIT? In the Naroda Patiya case it has acted a certain way, in the Zakia Jafri case, which claims a larger conspiracy involving Modi, it has behaved completely differently.
Mayaben Kodnani had been named in almost 16 FIRs filed in the Naroda Patiya police station in 2002. But these were dropped in May 2002 when the Gujarat crime branch took over the investigations. Even after the SIT was constituted, she was not charged. In 2009, we moved the Supreme Court saying the powerful are not being punished. Perhaps, spurred by that, in April 2010, Mayaben was first charged. So to cut a long story short, the SIT may have improved things about 25-30 percent in terms of overall investigation, but fell far short of 100 percent improvement in investigations...