June 2010 
Year 16    No.152
Cover Story

Travesty of truth

How intellectuals sell their soul


It is vacation time in the Supreme Court. Most of the lawyers and Honourable Judges are either out of town on a holiday or perhaps at
tending to personal and social engagements. The pressure that a lawyer practising in the Supreme Court undergoes is by now a well-known phenomenon. It was on one such day last week that I received a call from an acquaintance in Gujarat. The state holds a special place in my heart. Apart from having many close friends, I obtained my postgraduate degree in Law from MS University, Vadodara.

The call however disturbed the even tempo of last Sunday as my interlocutor informed me about a piece written by one Gunvant Shah in the Sunday supplement of the Gujarati daily, Divya Bhaskar. The caller was himself confused since Gunvant Shah is a well-known and well-respected literary figure in the state normally known for his balanced writing. He read out certain portions of the article and since there was a mention about Teesta Setalvad, whom I represent in the Supreme Court of India, it became imperative to write this article in response.

A bare reading of the article entitled “Karmsheel Juttu Bole Ke?” (“Does a sincere worker tell a lie?”) refers to Setalvad’s father Atul Setalvad and calls him a man of principle. It then proceeds to cite instances which, according to the author, establish that Setalvad under the grab of being a sincere worker has been telling lies.

It is first important to go back into the family history of Teesta as Gunvant Shah has already referred to her father. Very few people may now remember that she is the great grand-daughter of Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, an eminent advocate in the Bombay High Court during the British Raj. Such was the eminence of Sir Setalvad that in the aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the atrocities committed during the imposition of martial law in the then undivided Punjab, he was made a member of the Disorders Inquiry Committee which was appointed by the British Government to go into the causes of the disturbances.

It is to the fullest credit of Sir Setalvad and another Indian member, Sardar Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan, Bar-at-Law, Member for Appeals, Gwalior State, that they had the courage to record a dissenting note to the findings with regard to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the imposition of Martial Law in Punjab.

Sir Setalvad’s son, that is Teesta’s grandfather, retired as a senior counsel in the Supreme Court of India after being the first Attorney General of Independent India. If it was the intention of Gunvant Shah to establish that though sired by a principled father Teesta did not uphold the same values, he should now fully realize that the family values of this lady are far deeper and beyond any horizons than Gunvant Shah could have ever imagined.

The communal colour of the article becomes apparent when he makes it a point to say that she is married to Javed Anand and lest readers may mistake the Anand surname as a Hindu one, he makes it clear by suffixing ‘Begum’ to Teesta’s name. In a cleverer manner, he refers to Javed’s own article published in the Indian Express (March 16, 2010) to make the point that within the Muslim community Teesta is referred to as a ‘mujahid’.

Gunvant Shah is a respectable name in the Gujarati literary scene. He is the author of many seminal works which are well regarded and well read. Without any doubt he must realize that honesty is of two types and that intellectual honesty is by far the most important and superior to any other form of honesty which can be measured in rupees and/ or paise. Therefore can Gunvant Shah honestly say that in citing the above example it was not his intention to convey that it is because Teesta married a Muslim that she is espousing the case of the victims of communal riots, one of the most horrific that ever happened in India after 1947? Does he realize that Teesta neither changed her name to adopt a Muslim name nor converted to Islam?

The dishonesty of the author may have been intentional or unintentional. I would like to presume it was the latter, else how could he cite the example of Kausarbanu, a pregnant woman whose belly was torn upon by a sword during the riots and about whom relying on the evidence recorded by the SIT, Gunvant Shah proceeds to call Teesta a liar. I say that Shah has made this statement by mistake because he perhaps does not know the SIT on whose credibility he lays such a store by, stands discredited in the eyes of apex court to the extent that two Additional Director Generals of Police of the SIT, namely Shivanand Jha and Geeta Johri have been directed to stay out of the same. The latter has already been exposed for her deliberate failure in the investigation of Sohrabuddin case now being investigated by the CBI. The second point Gunvant Shah has completely forgotten is the Tehelka expose, which was telecast in the last quarter of 2007 where the perpetrator himself has admitted to the crime on camera.

The most unfortunate aspect of the article by this eminent author is his reference to the Sohrabuddin case. He states: “24 (AK 56) rifles, 27 hand grenades, 550 cartridges and 81 magazines were found”. He further writes, “...so was this man a Sufi fakir?” The figures of arms and ammunitions seized way back in 1995 from a village in Madhya Pradesh can only have been given to him by the authorities of the (Gujarat) state government. We may not however split hair on this issue, what is important is the obfuscation of facts. If this was true, those who supplied information to Gunvant Shah should reconcile the fact that Soharabuddin’s role was that of a petty criminal, who neither supplied these weapons nor used them but was part of a family or a gang to whom these weapons were entrusted for safe keeping.

It is not the intention here to give Sohrabuddin the benefit of doubt. He was tried, convicted and released. The law of the land had taken its course. The point however is different. Is it the contention of the Gujarat police that such a criminal should have been liquidated in cold blood?

The initial FIR registered by the Gujarat police mentioned that Sohrabuddin had come to kill Narendra Modi. The evidence now available establishes that the encounter was a fake. Can Gunvant Shah explain to the people of Gujarat how he views the motivation of a politician in power who through at least six fake encounters (figures could be actually as high as three times this number) has tried to paint for himself a macho image to help him realize his naked ambition of becoming the Prime Minister of India?

It is often said that perception is more important than the reality, more so where public perception is concerned. In the cacophony of “...Sohrabuddin, Sohrabuddin, Sohrabuddin...”, that innocent woman Kauserbi (his wife) is completely forgotten. On that fateful night in November 2005, when officers of the Gujarat police intercepted the bus travelling from Hyderabad to Hubli and wanted to take away Sohrabuddin alone, this loyal and courageous lady refused to let him go alone and clung to him thereby forcing the Gujarat police to bring her to Ahmedabad. The state has since admitted that she was killed.

Is it realized that extinguishing of this human life was not even brought on record, even as another, one more, fake encounter? And yet the state government opposed the transfer of the fake encounter case to the CBI, contesting it tooth and nail for three years. On each hearing, it sent the additional advocate general and the secretary to the CM to remain present in the Supreme Court. Shah should have analysed this reluctance on part of the Gujarat administration and opined whether it amounts to obstruction of justice in one form or the other.

It may well turn out that this could be one of the most horrendous cases this country has ever seen where a self-seeking political executive has used unscrupulous elements in the police in a dastardly manner. One year and two months later when it was realized that an interim report was sent to Supreme Court in December 2006, prima facie admitting that the killing of Sohrabuddin was a fake encounter, Tulsi Prajapati, a crucial eye witness, was in gross misuse of the judicial process brought on a transfer warrant from Udaipur and killed near Ambaji, Banaskantha district, Gujarat.

Two points need to be mentioned here. In his article why has Gunvant Shah remained quiet about the killing of Kauserbi and secondly why has he remained silent about the similar cold blooded liquidation of Tulsi Prajapati? The state government’s own CID (Crime) has arrested several police officers including the superintendent of police, Vipul Aggarwal in the said crime. If Teesta is a begum by virtue of her marriage to Javed Anand, what is Tulsi’s religion? Muslim, as he was a close associate of Sohrabuddin or Hindu, because his mother is one Narmadaben?

Gunvant Shah is an author and I am a lawyer. We both represent those sections of our society that are vital for the well-being of a healthy democracy. Both speak and write in the public domain and therefore it is critical for both to be sure of facts and the canvass on which they are operated. It would be naive for anyone to presume that Gunvant Shah was not aware of the entire circumstances. Therefore, it can only be said that if he wrote an article of this nature that is under discussion he has done a great disservice to the state by lending his name to issues which are far more complicated and serious than his literary background can even began to fathom.

I do not write in defence of Teesta, she can more than take care of herself. This response is actually a call to all law-abiding citizens to sit up and take notice of what is happening in the state of Gujarat. If public spirited citizens and votaries of civil society are to justify their existence in this country, they need to expose as vigorously as possible, and preferably outside the judicial forum, intentional misuse of state power to suppress crimes of serious nature. Let the citizens ask why the state sent the chief secretary, home secretary and the DGP to meet the director, CBI with regard to the criminal investigation of the Sohrabuddin case as reported by several newspapers, to convey to the chief of the Central agency that following the orders of the Supreme Court, according to these worthies, is going against the public opinion in Gujarat.

This is an unprecedented move never heard of before. A former DGP of Gujarat is already in the dock for obstructing justice. This is an investigation ordered by the Supreme Court after three years of deliberation. The state itself arrested 14 police officers of Gujarat and Rajasthan. When the CBI arrested one more police officer, Abhay Chudasma, DCP (Crime), there is an immediate uproar that it is going against sentiments of the people of Gujarat. Is it not for the governor of the state to take notice of the fact that the affairs of the government of Gujarat are conducted under rules framed as per Article 166 of the Constitution of India and therefore, by what administrative or constitutional propriety and under whose instructions or with whose connivance did the chief secretary, home secretary and the DGP proceed to Delhi to meet the CBI director?

(Kamini Jaiswal is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India.)

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