Gujarat verdict: Give it to Teesta, she knows how to wage a fight
Love her, hate her but the activist is reviving public faith in the judiciary.
There’s something about Teesta Setalvad. It takes a lot of courage to take on a powerful government for ten long years. It calls for a lot of self-belief to pursue complex legal cases in the face of an unfavourably disposed state machinery. It takes real guts to wage an all-out war against dangerous communal elements. She has fought for the 2002 communal riots victims well and the activist has not stopped yet.
The verdict in the Naroda Patiya case is significant. It is for the first time the courts have held politicians guilty in a riots case. But the import of Teesta’s fight goes much deeper. But for Citizen for Justice and Peace, the organisation she represents, the rate of conviction in the riot cases would have been dismal. There have been more than a hundred conviction in different riot cases so far, a record in the country. She has revived the public faith in the Indian judiciary.
The Gujarat government would possibly have buried the riot cases silently and efficiently — in a repeat of 1984 Delhi riots cases — but for her forceful intervention. Before the Supreme Court directed a SIT probe into nine such major cases following an NHRC appeal, many of the accused were acquitted by the state’s lower courts. There was not enough evidence against them or the complainants changed their testimony. The police are alleged to have worked overtime in many instances to ensure that justice to riot victims was not only delayed but also denied.
Teesta’s presence on the scene has changed all that. Her forceful intervention along with other civil society groups made the Supreme Court ask the state to reopen as many as 2,108 riot cases which had been closed citing lack of evidence. The appeal from civil society groups, including that of Teesta’s, made Supreme Court ask the state to reopen as many as 2,108 riot cases which had been closed citing lack of evidence. The state police was forced to identify nearly 1,600 cases for reinvestigation. It made arrests besides launching investigations against 40 police officers for their failures.
In the Naroda Patiya case, after the local police registered several FIRs naming powerful accused, the Ahmedabad Crime Branch intervened and dropped the names. "Without the Supreme Court monitoring these cases, without protection to the witnesses, without legal aid to the victim-witnesses justice could not have been done," she mentioned, replying to a question during an online chat on the CNN-IBN website. She has set a trend in Gujarat which could be emulated by victims of riots everywhere in the country. She has made people aware that they could have trust in the judiciary and the judicial process. Both grind slow but grind finally.
For all practical purposes, she has been the face of the fight for justice of the victims of the communal violence of 2002. Not many in Gujarat love that, especially the rabid right wingers. She has been called a Congress stooge, a Left agent and other names. The BJP-inclined intellectuals have been detecting political designs in her anti-Narendra Modi posturing. But to her credit, she has managed to keep a straight face and carry on. The record of her activism reveals no pronounced bias though she could be termed more Left than the Left of centre. However, in Gujarat she has made her cause bigger than her ideology. The court verdicts reveal she is on the right track.
Her record, as her detractors would point out, has not been free from blemishes. In 2004, Teesta was accused of pressuring Zaheera Sheikh, the prime witness in the Best Bakery case, to twist statements and offering inducements for the purpose. However, she was cleared of the charge a year later. She was castigated by the Supreme Court for raising the communal riots cases with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. RK Raghavan, who headed the SIT probe into the riots cases, told the Apex Court that the rights activist has manufactured cases of horrendous killings and tutored witnesses to provide evidence on fake incidents.
But to her credit, Teesta has not faltered. If her efforts manage to nail more politicians, she could end up making Gujarat proud of its sense of fairness. Hate her, love her but you cannot deny there’s something special about her.
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