Being an agnostic, we do sometimes believe in miracles – Teesta Setalvad

Being an agnostic, we do sometimes believe in miracles. In the work we do, in the work we have committed our lives for, in the work that has made us the object of arrest warrants, death threats, CBI raids on home and office (July 14 2015), in the work that have made my family, my husband, my sister and children dragged in to unseemly allegations and controversy, I have believed in the purity of motive and the sincerity of faith, Neeyat agar saaf hai to mushkilon kitni bh hon, jeet hamaari hai.

So it has been with the justice struggle in Gujarat. Have we won or lost? The conviction of 120 persons to life imprisonment (a never- never in the history of post Independence India) is certainly a first. The raw courage of witness Survivors in testifying before the Courts, to ensure these convictions, firm in the belief that truth was on their side –and protected by the CISF witness protection offered by the highest Court of the land, has been awe-inspiring. The fact that they stood with us, and we with them, offering legal aid, a Constitutional birthright, has made them unflinchingly loyal to us, in these hours when state vendetta has been unleashed against us, they stand firm, praying for us, still.

Teesta2In the history of the Gujarat justice process, the slow movement of the Zamia Jeri case is also a matter of study that shall, one way or another, make history. The criminal miscellaneous appeal (CRA Nose 205/2014) in the Zamia Jeri case appealing the rejection of the SIT closure report and seeking the charge sheeting of 60 powerful accused is all set to begin on July 27 2015. And hence we believe the redoubled attempts to humiliate me, constrain my movement and basically affect the quality of arguments in the Zamia Jeri case.

Since February 2014 (when Maya Konini, former minister in the Mode government in Gujarat, first applied for bail) her applications for bail have taken a curious turns. She was first refused bail by the Gujarat high Court and then granted it by the same court in July of 2014.

The new Regime took power in Delhi last May. Witness survivors, backed by the citizens for justice and peace (CJP), filed a special leave petition, challenging the bail to this convict, an elected member of her locality in 2002, found guilty by a special court (set up by the Supreme Court of India), of not simply the kingpin of a conspiracy to launch a physical attack on sections of the population that live within her electoral constituency, but of physical presence and distribution of swords to further this carnal attack. Officially the charge sheet says 96 persons were killed in the single largest massacre of 2002, our count is closer to 124.

Then another round of drama began, the attempts to speed up her appeal in the Gujarathigh court. An attempt in April this year was again objected to by Survivors backed by us in the Supreme Court of India, as there were some reservations about the manner and fashion the appeal was being rushed through. The Supreme Court listened and the hearing of the appeal was stayed for two months. Then last week (July 13 2015) one of the two judges of the division bench assigned to begin hearing of the case from July 13, 2015 recused himself saying ‘not before me’ without giving reasons for what he did.

Then, yesterday, i.e. on July 15 2015. a miracle of sorts happened. The sort of miracle thatZakia Jafri makes you believe in the goodness of things, the purity of motive. A two-member Gujarat High Court bench, for the second time during the hearing of the appeal, recused itself from hearing appeals in Naroda Patiya case of 2002 riots. This time it was not a simple, cryptic “Not before me.” Justices MR Shah and KS Jhaveri stated in open court that while, under normal circumstances, reasons are not given by Judges recusing themselves, this time they were constrained to state that some of the accused had approached them! The fact that one of these accused may be Bajrangi or any of the other influential accused (and that no name was mentioned in Court) makes the case even more suspicious. It shows how far those perpetrators are prepared to go to subvert public justice. It is also why, at this very auspicious moment and month, why we, even agnostics begin to believe in miracles!!!

On August 29, 2012, a day that should be commemorated as a special one for the human rights movement in India, 32 persons had been convicted to life imprisonment in the  Naroda Patiya case, the verdict had been delivered by Judge Jyotsna Yagnik. She has also over the past year been threatened and security given to her, removed. Twenty-nine accused have filed appeals, our team and I were set to represent the survivors in appeals when this dramatic turn took place, yesterday.

The Zakia Jafri criminal revision application (against the Magistrate’s order of 26.12.2013 rejecting Zakia appa’s protest petition)  will now be argued rigorously by us from July 27, 2015. Our team, assisted by me, will make out the case of criminal and administrative culpability despite the brazen attacks on us, to arrest and intimidate us.

Until yesterday it had been the Gujarat police’s intimidation. They arrived at our home to arrest us within minutes of a Gujarat high court order rejecting bail on flimsy charges (February 12 2015) that have been forcibly rebutted by us. Now the new regime has unleashed the CBI on us, even as it remains mute on the murderous scams that have embroiled this government. I include portions of a statement made by me while the CBI searches were being conducted on our home and residence on July 14-15 2015:

 “As I write this, the search is still not concluded. It is shocking that while over a dozen members of the CBI are still in our premises conducting the search, a Delhi spokesperson  of the same agency is misleading the public and our supporters by deliberately misinforming the public.

In our view, and we repeat no laws have been broken by us. No ‘incriminating documents have been seized.’ The documents ‘seized’ by the team we were prepared to voluntarily give, and we have both to the Gujarat police and the MHA’s FCRA department (April and June 2015). We had written to the CBI twice, first on June 30,2015 and again on July 10, 2015 offering full cooperation and seeking information. All the investigation can be carried out through documentary evidence. Why then this cloak and dagger method to portray us as common criminals ? Until now the witch hunt was solely by the Gujarat police. Now, under the new dispensation Central agencies have been unleashed on us!!

Teesta SetalvadIt is shameful political vendetta. To stop us in our tracks, and prevent the systematic legal aid to Survivors, be it the Zakia Jafri case, the Naroda Patiya appeals (Kodnani and Bajrangi) and the Sardarpura and Odh appeals.

India should be ashamed that when scams like Vyapam are happening, over 50 persons dying, witnesses in Asaram Bapu case are dying; CBI is not appealing in critical cases related to crimes by politicians; the agency is being unleashed on human rights defenders standing up for the rights of Survivors of Mass Violence. It is worse than the British Raj. Pathetic

I repeat Sabrang Communications has broken no law(s). Section 3 of the FCRA, 2010 bars political parties and its office bearers, government servants including Judges and persons associated with the newspapers and television news channels from accepting foreign contribution. However Section 4 of the same law says that if persons named under section 3 accept money from a foreign source by way of wages, salaries or other renumeration for themselves or a group of people working under them in the ordinary course of business in India, such payment will not be a violation of the FCRA. The amount received by Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt. Ltd Co. from the Ford Foundation was not a grant but a payment as per a consultancy agreement which had nothing to do with the publishing of Communalism Combat. Therefore, the question of prior permission or registration does not arise.

In fact when Communalism Combat was awarded the prestigious Prince Klaus award for Excellence in Journalism and Development, in December 2000 (under NDA !) we sought permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) before depositing the award amount into our account. Are these the actions of common criminals?!!!

Will the vindictive designs of this Regime succeed? Not if we can help it. I sign off wishing our readers, Eid Mubarak!


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