Teesta Setalvad: A Witch-Hunt to Silence Dissent
Newsclick Interviewed Teesta Seetalvad on the case filed against her by the Gujarat Police and the high court judgment denial of anticipatory bail, which later was stayed by Supreme Court. Teesta termed it as a witch-hunt by the Gujarat government because of her struggle to bring to book the perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat Riots. She feels that the Modi government at the centre, and the Gujarat government is hounding her because of the continuing court cases and the large number of convictions that have resulted from such cases.
Teesta Setalvad stated that the judgment of the Gujarat High Court was surprising as it appears to be entirely based on the affidavit of the Investigating officer and does not take into account her detailed affidavit, which refutes with documentary evidence the false claims of the Gujarat Police. She said that her organization is ready for any impartial inquiry carried out under the Supreme Court, which will vindicate that these are indeed false cases.
Pranjal(PR): Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today we have with us social activist Teesta Setalvad, with whom we are going to discuss about the latest attack launched by the Gujarat police on her and Javed Anand and also about the judgment given by the Gujarat high court. The Supreme Court had warned Gujarat government earlier for the false cases that they have registered against her and her husband and CJP.
PR: which are the cases that have been framed against you previously and what is the situation today?
Teesta Setalvad(TS): See, the targeted attack began from 2004 onwards, ever since the Citizen for Justice and Peace, the organization that I represent consistently gave legal aid to the survivors of 2002 and did not simply stop at documentation. The first was the charge by the star witness in the Best Bakery case, Zahira Sheikh, who had accused me of kidnapping and all sorts of charges at which point I requested the Supreme Court and I applied to the Supreme Court for an independent investigation. The Supreme Court appointed a high level registrar general enquiry that exonerated me and my organization completely and unfortunately Sheikh had to undergo one year simple imprisonment because of the purgatory she committed, lying on oath. So that was one, in connection with that incident there was anFIR which was finally quashed by the High Court. After that, and in all subsequent cases, a former employee of CJP has been used as a pong by the powerful in Gujarat and now at the Centre to simply consistently attack us, trying to malign us, fortunately that’s not succeeded and also to derail us from our activity of giving consistent legal aid. I would like to explain is that for the first time in the history of the independent India, the cases related to mass communal violence, we have had judicial remedy to the extent of 117 powerful accused have been convicted to life time imprisonment, this has never happened before and this has all thanks to the CJP, its legal team in Gujarat, Delhi, Mumbai and I am the front face of the organization and my colleague Javed Anand is also a trustee. The reason for targeting us in this vindictive and sickening way with fault suits, is simply to demoralize the victims, to distract from our work and to send a message for the future that nobody in future should come to the legal help of victims of communal violence, and that is the conspiracy behind the charges and we are absolutely pained and shocked to the extent of fault suit that the prosecution armed with powerful lawyers like Jeth Malani etc have gone to mislead the honorable Gujarat High Court. It is absolutely shocking. The other charges against me relating to tutoring of witnesses, filing false affidavits, digging up mass graves in Panderwada and all these were the instance of our former employee who is now working in cahoots with the powerful in Gujarat and Delhi at the Centre. I must emphasize that trial court judgment, special courts appointed by the Supreme Court that went for the Sardarpura case, where 33 people were killed, Naroda Patiya case where 124 people according to us and 96 people according to the charge sheet were killed, both trial judges have said there was no question of tutoring. So the judgments have come out in our favour and still the persistence and the viciousness of the attack by the Gujarat state, the RSS minded and the VHP minded lawyers in Gujarat who appear for the state and now the centre are consistently targeting me and my organization. Not only there is a danger for this kind of attack, there is a danger of physical attack. Fortunately we are a 65 year old democracy, so there are some democratic institutions and therefore we have applied to the Supreme Court saying, “protect us”. I repeat, we are not against an independent investigation, we are not against transparency. We gave 1500 pages of original account documenting issue to disprove every one of the malicious charges and we were shocked to see that the 63 page judgment of the Gujarat high court only takes into consideration what the IO and Jeth Malani said and disregards all the evidence we have put forward. I mean we are shocked with the injustice of the judgment.
PR: what are the charges that have been framed against you in the recent case?
TS: charges in the FIR are related to the Gulberg memorial which was a common dream of some of the survivors and us that we should memorialize 2002 carnage Gulberg society and may be a memorial could be set up. Between 2007 and 2012 efforts were made but we realized that the sheer pressure on our human resources for the legal aid plus the fact that the land prices have gone up makes that dream very difficult. So finally by 2012 the Gulberg Society told all the individual members that memorial is not likely to come up so therefore they are free to sell off their properties on their own. Never was a single pie raised by any of our trusts from the victim. The money that donor organizations have given us legitimately under FCRA is for the wide activity of the Suburban trust FCJP not for the Gulberg memorial. Only about 4.6 lakhs were collected for the memorial which is still lying as unutilized. This entire campaign is meant to cripple us financially, our accounts have been frozen for over an year without notice being given to us and we are living in a democracy with standards of transparency. It is shocking that criminals are being let off by courts. Policemen who have committed crimes and citizens like us who have worked for the justice of poor are being targeted like this.
PR: so it seems like high court judgment is based on the investigating officer’s report while your affidavit has been ignored. So how do you see it?
TS: we are completely and bitterly grieved by the Gujarat high court judgment and it is not the first time we have similarly grieved. The 63 page Gujarat high court judgment completely disregards the affidavits filed by us on 31st March 2014, 18th June 2014, July 2014,the material given to the IO when we appeared before the police. Javed Anand and I appeared on two occasions before the police and another large affidavit filed by us on 9th January 2013 and again on 23rd January 2015. These affidavits by themselves are simply averments with these affidavits there are 1500 pages of our original account records disproving the malicious allegation about buying jewellery and branded shoes which were deliberately made by the way to prejudice the judges. If we drink wine in Mumbai, it is not a criminal offence. The point is wine, jewellery and shoes were paid from the personal accounts of Javed and myself, never by the trust but deliberately this malicious information is being spread so that the judge sitting in the judge’s chair gets prejudiced. What shocks us is that we produce the bank statements before the judge; we produce the accounts to show that we were reimbursed only to the extent of tickets bought for the lawyers or for ourselves and any expenses for the objectives of the trust. The rest of the expenses in the same common credit card statements were paid from my personal income. So how should a personal income and our life style be of any interest to the IO except with a malicious and a filthy applet which is typically RSS, typically fascist to prejudice the judges sitting in the judge’s chair? We have our hopes on the Supreme Court, SC has given us the protection, first they gave it to us for a day now they have given for a week and on the 19th February we’ll have a full-fledged hearing. We believe our case is very strong. We believe we have done no wrong. We have audited our accounts on time. We have submitted the audit accounts to the income tax, to the FCRA of the Home Ministry and to the charity commissioner. For some period there were some technical issues of the charity commissioner; some slip between our auditors and the charity commissioner. So under the act itself you are exempted, you can file them a bit late but they were audited on time, they were never not audited on time. We have eminent trustees on our board who have stood by us through thick and thin. Even they issued a statement yesterday and we believe that we have a very strong case. I would like to repeat that if this was a bonafide investigation like I said at the time of the Zahira Sheikh case in 2004. Let the highest court in the land appoint a special investigation supervised by the Supreme Court, we have no problems but we do have problems with the Gujarat Police and Ahmadabad police Crime Branch conducting this witch hunt, deliberately misguided by the likes of Jeth Malani simply to ensure that we are paralyzed from functioning. That is unjust, that is what we will battle, that is what we will resist. If all our accounts needed to be scrutinized we are prepared as long as the Supreme Court supervises the investigation we are fully ready for it but please remember that the Gujarat Crime Branch and the Gujarat Police have been prosecuted against by CJP in the Zakhia Jafri case in which we are aiding and abetting MrsJafri where the powerful have been accused and charge sheeted including the man who sits as prime minister, the man who is Commissioner of Ahmadabad Police today, the Joint Police Commissioner of the Crime Branch. All of them have been named in that complaint. So that is why there is this vendetta against us because we are seeking to show through the justice process even today that what happened in 2002 in 14 of the 25 districts of Gujarat was not a spontaneous outburst but calibrated, calculated and preplanned conspiracy. Bringing the bodies of the Godhra victims to Ahmadabad. ShivanandJha, the todays Police Commissioner of Ahmadabad was the man who allowed the parading of the bodies in a bloody funeral procession so that the angers were raised, passions were fuelled and blood was led on the streets of Ahmadabad.
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