Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and journalist, is fighting for justice for the victims of the Gujarat riots in 2002 under the banner of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), as a part of her long fight against communalism, started from 1992 with her husband Javed Anand. The organization CJP is fighting a legal battle for the criminal prosecution of Narendra Modi and many other leaders and state officers for their alleged roles in the riots. Till now, it has been successful in bringing about 120 convictions, including Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, in different cases.
Teesta Setalvad, born in 1962, graduated with a degree in Philosophy from Bombay Universityfront in 1983 and starting working as a journalist. In 1993, she started a monthly magazine Communalism Combat with her husband Javed Anand. Teesta and Javed, along with many active citizens, set up CJP on 1st April 2002, which led the legal fight to the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court of India to shift “Best Bakery Case” to Maharashtra for re-investigation, resulting in convictions.
Describing the horrors of Gujarat riots, Arundhati Roy wrote in her essay Democracy, “Within hours of the Godhra outrage, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal put into motion a meticulously planned pogrom against the Muslim community. Officially the number of dead is 800. Independent reports put the figure at well over 2,000. More than a hundred and fifty thousand people, driven from their homes, now live in refugee camps. Women were stripped, gang-raped, parents were bludgeoned to death in front of their children. Two hundred and forty dargahs and 180 masjids were destroyed—in Ahmedabad the tomb of Wali Gujarati, the founder of the modern Urdu poem, was demolished and paved over in the course of a night. The tomb of the musician Ustad Faiyaz Ali Khan was desecrated and wreathed in burning tyres. Arsonists burned and looted shops, homes, hotels, textiles mills, buses and private cars. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs.”
Describing the unwillingness and the attitude of the state in delivering justice to the victims, Amnesty International said on 29 February 2012, “Immediately after the riots, the Gujarat authorities cited lack of evidence to close 2,107 cases without giving the victims an opportunity to depose as per the law. Following this, a Supreme Court-appointed enquiry, in February 2006, directed the state authorities to reopen 1,594 of the cases; the victims lodged 13 fresh complaints and successive probes found that 41 police officials were involved in the riots, naming more than 600 persons as accused in various cases. However, the state authorities appointed members and supporters of extremist Hindu organizations as public prosecutors in an overwhelming number of cases, many of which did not lead to convictions given the communal bias of public prosecutors and members of the lower judiciary in Gujarat.”
A committed activist fighting communalism cannot keep mum when genocide is going on and justice is being denied to the victims. Teesta and Javed, along with many others, started the challenging task of leading a legal fight to ensure justice for the riot victims. They took up the task of collecting evidence, protecting witnesses and getting to the lawyers who are committed for bringing justice to the people. This courageous intervention resulted in many convictions in different cases and this fight for justice is still going on.
The people, who lost everything in this state programme of genocide, were feeling hopeless under the fascist regime. The state government used all its power to terrorize the people. Many fake encounters were executed to portray Narendra Modi as “hindu hriday samrat”, the target of Muslim terrorists, and the draconian law POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was used to fill jails with innocent Muslim youth. This dedicated intervention by organizations like CJP to fight for justice for the oppressed has given some hope and the real face of the Gujarat Model has been exposed.
Activist Teesta Setalvad with Zakia Jafri whose husband Ehsan Jafri, a former MP and Congress leader, who was hacked and burnt alive during the 2002 pogrom. (PC: Caravan Daily)
Nishrin Jafri Hussain, the daughter of Ehsan Jafri, wrote on Facebook remembering the horrors of the ‘Gulberg Society case’ : “Now it is the afternoon of February 28, 2002, thousands of goons have surrounded Gulberg Society to take revenge of the burning of the kar sevaks in Godhra, they are charging with swords, they have beheaded Akhtar and his dad in their front yard, people are frantically running towards my father’s house, reason being my father’s house is in the center of the complex, goons have started burning the properties outside, they have pulled our neighbor’s daughter and miss behaving with them, her mother is not letting her go, she is not succeeding, you can see couple kids running outside, they have been doused with kerosene and they are running screaming with pain, these are the same kids who were playing Cricket after breakfast in the open space, Ammi (my mother Zakiya Naseem Jafri) is now hiding on the second floor with few other ladies and children who managed to run upstairs. Stones are being pelted from all four directions of the house now, almost all the Muslims from the neighborhood are either killed, lying outside injured or have succeed in taking shelter in our house, our house is now also surrounded and goons have started throwing fire balls with kerosene, they have started pushing the gas cylinders in the house. Abba (my father Ahsan Jafri) probably is now outside in the front of the house requesting, almost begging the goons to leave the children and women alone, he probably has been dragged outside by now, he knows he will not survive. Upstairs Ammi has just realized that in this chaos Leelaben, lady who lives with her and helps her around the house with housework has followed her upstairs, even in this frenzy and chaos she knows that she does not have to die with her, Ammi takes four other ladies with her and brings Leelaben outside on the balcony at the back of the house, folds her hands and requests the crowd to allow them to let her go, she shouts “she is a Hindu, please take her, let her go”, Ammi and the other ladies lower Leelaben on the water tank below the balcony, Ammi is hit by a stone, they all run inside, goons have discovered survivors on the top floor, Ammi and others shut the iron gate and lock it from inside behind them, by this time the second floor is engulfed with fire and there is no way out.”
Ehsan Jafri speaking in a conference against communalism in 1988 (PC: Nishrin Jafri)
Former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri repeatedly tried to phone the then Ahmedabad Police Commissioner for help before he was attacked and burnt to death by a mob.
With the aid of CJP, Zakiya Jafri is fighting for justice. The hearing of her case is on 27thJuly before the magistrate’s court is Ahmedabad. Narendra Modi is the accused in the case. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand why the government is behind Teesta Setalvad, why her bank accounts are being seized, why a travel ban have been imposed on her, why CBI registers new FIRs against her every day.