India: Teesta Setalvad and her struggle
September 23, 2015, 4:38 am

Teesta Setalvad, a human rights defender is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), an NGO based in Mumbai. The Citizen for Justice and Peace was set up after the Gujarat riots in 2002, to promote communal harmony and provide legal aid to fight for justice for the people of Gulbarg society. Teesta and her team have tirelessly provided legal support to the victims, including documentation and case hearings at the Supreme Court, and were able to get 120perpetrators convicted[1]. Teesta is also the founder of Sabrang Trust, which was established after the communal violence in Mumbai (1992-1993) to promote communal harmony.

Today Teesta and her husband Javed Anand find themselves in a great turmoil over charges of violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 (FCRA) and allegations claiming their activities are ‘great threat to national security and public interest’ by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). On 26 June 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs handed the investigation to CBI ordering to seize their personal and professional bank accounts in Mumbai and not allow any transaction without permission of the CBI. According to the allegations of the Ministry, Sabrang Trust accepted a donation of USD 290,000 and USD 131,000 from Ford Foundation (a USA based private foundation) between 2004-2008 without prior permission or registration. The case is still under investigation at the Bombay High Court. It was a sign of relief for Teesta and Javed when the Court granted anticipatory bail rejecting CBI’s claim that the activities were threats to nation. According to the local newspaper, Justice Mridula Bhatkar said “A dissenting view or expression cannot be always said to be against sovereignty of the nation. The terms `against the nation’ and `against the government’ are two different terms. However, in a democratic state, a citizen has a right to have different ideology, belief and different point of view and it is a duty of the State to protect the said right to have freedom of expression to the same”[2].

Background of Gujrat Riot in 2002:

The 2002 Gujarat Violence was an inter-communal state wide violence leading to mass killing of the minority Muslims. The genocidal attack on Muslims by mobs of Hindu extremists, can be explained as an aftermath of the burning coach of Sabarmati Express which was carrying Hindu pilgrims at Godhra, by a local mob of Muslim extremists. The local police was unable to handle the anti-Muslim pogrom that went on for several weeks, killing and evacuating thousands of Muslims. There are strong allegations against 62 people in the Gujarat Government and the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi for deliberately allowing the Anti-Muslim riots.

Background of Zakia Jafri case:

It has been 14 years since Ms. Zakia Jafri decided to file a First Information Report (FIR) against 60 people, including politicians and the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. The Gujarat riots in 2002 left more than 2,000 dead of which most of the victims were Muslims. Zakia Jafri lost her husband Eshan Jafri a Congress MP when the mob set fire to the Gulbarg Society killing 68 more people. She claims that there was a bigger conspiracy that fueled the riots in 2002, facilitated by the politicians leading to a state-wide violence, also tampering with evidence and destroying records from the Gujarat Home Department. The case has seen many down’s since 2002, and is still pending at the Gujarat High Court.

In 2014, a former resident of Gulbarg society filed an FIR against Teesta and Javed for embezzlement of funds meant for construction of a memorial in 2002. The Gujarat Crime Branch charged them under Sections 120(B), 406 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 72(A) of the Income Tax Act[3]. The case is currently under a magistrate court, which induced 3 more charges in August 2015 under sections 467 (forgery of valuable security), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating) and 471 (using a forged document as genuine)[4]. Teesta and Javed are currently juggling between several cases. At the same time, they are in the middle of a constant battle to get bail at Bombay High Court, Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court.

Teesta and Javed are facing judicial and public harassment, as well as false allegations and intimidation, for their efforts to investigate and get justice for the victims of Gulbarg massacre. Their story showcases the disabling environment in which human rights defenders are obliged to operate in India.

While the investigations in the Godhra train attack proceeded rapidly with full support of the Gujarat authorities, the investigations into the anti-Muslim riots have been deliberately slowed down. In fact, despite the order by the Supreme Court to set up a special investigation team, there has been ineffective investigation by the police, while the Indian judiciary system has not been able to hold accountable senior BJP leaders, like the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Fourteen years on and the Indian government still owes justice to victims of the Gujarat riots, but instead of conducting effective investigations and protecting who is advocating for justice and accountability, has chosen to go after activists and lawyers like Teesta and Javed.


Timeline of harassment and intimidation against Teesta:

5thOctober 2010: Ms. Teesta Setalvadwrote to Mr. RK Raghavan (Chairperson of the SIT of Gujarat Police) regarding lack of protection for eyewitnesses and survivors of Gulbarg Society Massacre. Ms. Teesta furnished a copy of the letter to the UN OHCHR Geneva.

7th October 2010: Ms. Setalvad wrote again to Mr. RK Raghavan regarding the lack of protection of CJP, as false allegations have been filed against her by a former employee of CJP, for giving false testimonies of the several survivors before the court. Ms. Teesta furnished a copy of this letter to the UN OHCHR Geneva.

15th January 2011: Ms. Setalvad submitted an affidavit mentioning that she has the right to inform UN OHCHR since it can keep information pertaining to human rights from all over the world.

20th January 2011: Supreme Court issued a written order that Ms. Setalvad must not communicate to OHCHR any information regarding the massacre.

3rd March 2011: In the hearing at the Supreme Court, a statement issued as instructed by Ms. Setalvad that in future no such letters will be sent to OHCHR. On that statement the Supreme Court decided to close the case.

4th January 2014: The Gujarat Crime Branch officials filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand had embezzled funds of INR 15,000,000, meant for the construction of a memorial of 2002 riot victims at Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad. Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand are charged under Sections 120(B), 406 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 72(A) of the Income Tax Act.

10th January 2014: Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand were granted interim bail by the Bombay High Court.

31st January 2014: The Bombay High Court granted Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand interim bail for four weeks until 28 February 2014 with a direction to approach the Gujarat High Court for anticipatory bail.

24th February 2014: Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand filed a petition against the 31 January order of the Bombay High Court. However, the Supreme Court refused to grant them anticipatory bail. Instead, the court extended interim bail until 31 March 2014.

25th March 2014: The session Court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, rejected the anticipatory bail and observed there is enough evidence and further police investigation is needed in the presence of the accused.

28th March 2014: The Gujarat High Court issued a notice to Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch (DCB),postponing the arrest of Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand until 4 April 2014 for further hearing.

4th April 2014: On request by the State for additional time to file a reply to the anticipatory petition, the Gujarat High Court adjourned the hearing to 23 April 2014. The same day Bombay High Court ruled the matter was not in its jurisdiction and must be taken up at the Gujarat High Court.

6th March 2015: Fresh investigation ordered against Ms. Setalvad by the Ministry of Home Affairs, based on accusations of misuse of funds received by Sabrang Trust from Ford Foundation.

26th June 2015: The Ministry of Home Affairs handed the investigation to CBI and ordered a seizure to Sabrang Trust bank account.

8th July 2015: The CBI registered the case against Sabrang Communication and Publication Pvt Limited (SCPPL) under the Foreign Contribution Act (FCR), for receiving money from Ford Foundation without registration.

14th July 2015: CBI searched 4 premises owned by Teesta and Javed including office of Sabrang Trust.

17th July 2015: Teesta and Javed filed anticipatory bail application at CBI court, they were then granted interim relief from arrest.

24th July 2015: CBI special court rejected the anticipatory bail and also refused to extend the interim relief. Teesta and Javed had to seek prior permission for utilising the foreign contribution.

27th July 2015: On the alleged fund embezzlement case (started in 2014) with Gulbarg Society, the Gujarat High Court condoned delay in filling plea and fixed the next hearing on 5th August

3rd August 2015: Ahmedabad police’s crime branch petitioned the magistrate court for permission to add more charges to the FIR registered against Teesta and Javed over the fund embezzlement case.

10th August 2015: The Magistrate court in Gujaratallowed 3 more charges against Teesta and Javed over the fund embezzlement case. The new charges are under sections 467 (forgery of valuable security), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating) and 471 (using a forged document as genuine).

11th August 2015: The Bombay High Court granted anticipatory bail to Teesta and Javed in connection with the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act2010 (FCRA).