First it was “Kidnapping of Zahira Shaikh”.
Teesta Setalvad was a co-petitioner in the Best bakery case. Zahira Sheikh was the star witness. The first information report was based on Zahira’s eyewitness account of the massacre that occurred during the Gujarat communal carnage. Fourteen people were burnt to death on March 1, 2002, when a mob set fire to the Best Bakery, owned by Sheikh’s family, situated below their house. Zahira was the boldest witness in the cases.
Zahira changed her statement in front of Vadodra Fast Track Court and said that she did not see anything. After a few weeks Zahira Sheikh arrived in Mumbai and said that she lied under oath because local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Madhu Srivastav threatened her. Zahira was given protection in Mumbai by Teesta Setalvad who helped her file an appeal in the Supreme Court asking for a re-trial outside Gujarat. The Supreme Court granted her request and ordered a re-trial in Mumbai, as it felt that a fair trial was not possible in Gujarat. The Best Bakery case was a landmark case, as it was probably the first in which the Supreme Court ordered a re-trial outside a State.
The trial was under way in Mumbai and the prosecution had examined 27 witnesses, including two eyewitnesses. Zahira was scheduled to testify in a few weeks. However, she suddenly appeared in Vadodara and changed her stand once again at a press conference organised by Ahmedabad-based lawyer Jal Unwala at a five-star hotel. The details of how Zahira reached Vadodara and who paid to get her there remain unclear. After the press conference, she was put up at a club opposite the High Court in Ahmedabad and was provided police security.
Zahira denied that she was ever threatened by Madhu Srivastav and said that the Sessions Court judgment acquitting the 13 accused was “correct”. Asked about the petition filed by Teesta Setalvad in the Supreme Court, Zahira said that the petition was drafted in English. She said she was told that the document was regarding the Best Bakery property and thus she signed. Sheikh claimed she was not aware that she was filing a petition in the Supreme Court. However, the fact that Zahira was present in the Supreme Court during one of the hearings went against her.
Zahira sheikh also alleged that Teesta Setalvad kept her locked in a flat in Andheri for seven months. However, the magazine Frontline learned that Zahira fell out with Teesta Setalvad and had been living with her sister in Mumbai since December 2003. She had even written to the Police Commissioner saying that she did not want police protection. Around the time of her testimony, Zahira demanded that Teesta Setalvad’s organisation give her a flat and a bakery in Mumbai, said the public prosecutor Manjula Rao.
There were other witnesses who had identified some of the accused, so the case stood strong without Zahira and her family.
After seeing Zahira Sheikh’s multiple flip flops , Teesta Setalvad went to Supreme Court and asked for a thorough investigation.Supreme Court Registrar report found that unaccounted money had found itself into Zahira Sheikh’s account. Madhukar Srivastava BJP MLA refused to give voice test samples to the SC (who is above the law) (2005). Zahira Sheikh was put behind bars for her blatant lies and Teesta Setalvad was found innocent.
Then there was the article “Tutoring of Witnesses” (Sardarpura, Naroda Patia and Gaam). Special Courts Sardarpura, Naroda Patia conclusively held there was no tutoring (other trials are still on (2011,2012)
During this time there were attempts to arrest Teesta Setalvad. However the Supreme Court of India stayed Investigations.
Then there was the case of “digging up mass graves” in Lunawada when Teesta Setalvad was hundreds of kilometres away. She was illegally “added” as an accused 5 years (2011) after the FIR was lodged (2006) a la Raees Khan Pathan via Gujarat Police . Attempts to arrest Teesta Setalvad were made yet again but the SC has stayed Investigations
The latest assault was about ‘funds’ for Gulberg Memorial. When the anticipatory bail to Teesta Setalvad was denied by Gujarat High Court an attempt to arrest Teesta Setalvad yet again was made by Gujrat Police within hours of the verdict. Supreme Court stayed the arrest yet again.
After 20,000 documents INCLUDING credit card vouchers etc were submitted now there is a new attack on Teesta Setalvad’s Sabrang Trust. According to Gujarat’s Minister of State, Mr Rajnikant Patel, the state government contacted the Home Minister requesting the inquiry into the Setalvad’s Sabrang Trust on the basis of their belief that foreign funds sent to her NGO, in particular by the US-based Ford Foundation, were misused in order “to create communal disharmony” within the state of Gujarat, and carrying out “anti-national propaganda” abroad. Following the letter from the Gujarat Government to the Home Minister, senior officers from the FCRA monitoring unit visited the registered offices of the Sabrang Trust, along with those of Citizens for Justice and Peace. With the full co-operation of Teesta Setalvad and her staff, the inspection team carried out a detailed investigation into the records of both NGOs from 6-8 April 2015, during which hundreds of copies of original accounts and records were provided upon request to the investigation unit. The intensified investigation into Teesta Setalvad and the work of her NGOs comes in the build up to her anticipatory bail plea, which shall be heard by a 3 member bench of the Supreme Court on 21 April 2015, in relation to legal proceedings pending against her and her spouse, Mr Javed Anand, based on allegations of embezzling funds intended for the construction of a memorial to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The question arises is Gujarat Government paranoid about the legal processes related to 2002 (still pending)? Are the constant attacks on Teesta Setalvad’s organizations CJP and SABRANG primarily to malign Setalvad’s image because she is the only activist in the history of Indian riots who has managed to put 117 rioters behind bars with astute legal advocacy? Narendra Modi’s minister Maya Kodnani was one of the many convicted along with Babu Bajrangi.
Zakia Jafri’s case proceedings will re-start soon. Narendra Modi is one of the accused in the case. Teesta Setalvad is the co-petitioner in the case. Is Teesta Setalvad being hounded because she has not given up on the Zakia Jafri case?
Teesta Setalvad says: “Question is whether we will allow ourselves to be bullied into submission and silence. Since we at least (unlike the aggressors) believe in fair probe we have submitted ourself to full investigation be it before the Gujarat Police or MHA while knowing that the Gujarat Police Probe is vindictive in nature as many of the Senior Officials including present Commissioner of Police Ahmedabad are sought to be prosecuted in the Zakia Jafri Case. But obviously the GANG OF MORE THAN FOUR is not interested in the facts/evidence provided but in using Sections of the Media (esp TV anchors) who have amnesia and the inability to go through Court Documents especially detailed rebuttals with evidence submitted by us (Human Rights Defenders)”