June 2011 
Year 17    No.158
Cover Story

Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad
and Justice in Gujarat 

Alarmed at the persistent efforts of the Gujarat state through its police to derail the justice process by targeting Teesta Setalvad personally, prominent human rights defenders have announced the formation of the Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat, an initiative launched at a press conference in Mumbai on May 23, 2011. Chaired by a distinguished former judge of the Supreme Court of India, PB Sawant, the committee has two vice-chairpersons, veteran Islamic scholar Dr Asghar Ali Engineer and former chief minister of Gujarat Suresh Mehta; its conveners are advocate Balwant Desai and social activist Irfan Engineer.

The members of the committee include renowned academics and historians Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Rajmohan Gandhi and Prabhat Patnaik as well as prominent public figures such as Aruna Roy, Juzar Bandukwala and Binayak and Ilina Sen.

Speaking at the press conference, Justice Sawant said: “The malicious and motivated campaign against Teesta and the lawyers struggling for justice for the victims of the genocide in Gujarat in 2002 is aimed at distracting the course of justice and attacking the personal liberties of the human rights activists who have stood by the course of truth and justice.” Coming down heavily on the Gujarat government, he observed that what happened and continues to happen in Gujarat is a “rape of the legal system”.

“In Gujarat today, every constitutional norm is subverted; there is corruption and intimidation of the most vindictive kind,” opined former chief minister Suresh Mehta.

“The attack against Teesta Setalvad is three-pronged, aimed at threatening her personal liberty through arrest, a widespread disinformation and malicious campaign to affect the process of justice and distracting her from the demands of the struggle,” said senior lawyer Mihir Desai, speaking at the launch.

This intimidation comes at a time when finally, after nine long years, serious allegations against the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, of masterminding the criminal conspiracy to commit mass murder, have reached a pivotal stage. In a path-breaking development, the Supreme Court of India on May 5, 2011 directed the amicus curiae to examine all evidence and meet all witnesses and report back to the court on whether a case exists against the chief minister and 61 others. Serving and retired Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers have testified to the illegal and unconstitutional instructions given by Narendra Modi on February 27, 2002 which led to the carnage. In the ensuing days at least 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were murdered. Rape and other terrible acts of violence were committed while the state police and administration stood by.

In addition to the evidence of high-level complicity that is being unravelled through the relentless pursuit of justice, the next six months or year could see the conviction of over 350 accused in the eight major carnage trials being monitored by the Supreme Court and in which Citizens for Justice and Peace, the organisation Setalvad represents, has been providing legal aid to victims and witnesses. The real story of the struggle for justice is the courage with which survivors have deposed, without fear or favour, within Gujarat even as the perpetrators walk free on bail. 

Prosecution of all those responsible for these crimes is an essential prerequisite for justice, peace and reconciliation. It will help guarantee that similar crimes are not committed in the future. It is this judicial process, set inexorably in motion by the grit and persistence of the victim survivors, and supported by Setalvad and her organisation, that the government of Gujarat is brazenly seeking to thwart through its persecution of Teesta Setalvad.

Apart from a Facebook presence, more information can be sourced at http://justice4guj02.blogspot.com/. A US-based medical practitioner, Dr Bindu Desai, has initiated an online petition to the president of India, accessible at http://www.petitiononline.com/guj2002/petition.html, which states: “We follow with increasing concern and dismay events related to efforts seeking redress for the victims of the carnage in Gujarat in 2002. We have witnessed the relentless harassment and intimidation of Teesta Setalvad who has been working tirelessly and courageously for justice for these victims. She is targeted with character assassination, false allegations and threats to her personal security. In a concerted attempt to derail the course of justice, the government of Gujarat has foisted four false criminal cases against her. She faces the very real threat of arrest.

“The victims of 2002 have waited far too long for redress and justice. We urge you therefore to use the powers of your high office to ensure justice for the victims. We want you to make certain that the law and the process of justice take their proper course without being subverted or influenced by vested interests, however powerful. We demand that the government of Gujarat ceases the harassment and intimidation of Teesta Setalvad and other human rights defenders.”

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