'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Monday, June 20, 2016
Outraged by complete disregard for eye-witness testimonies: Teesta Setalvad on Gulberg Society verdict // NGOs protesting Centre’s policies being targeted: BSP
The cancellation of
FCRA licence for the NGO Sabrang Trust by the Union Home Ministry and the
Gulberg Society judgment which came within a day of each other has brought the
focus sharply on civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad. Yogesh Pawar caught up
with her to find out her side of the story. Excerpts.
How do you react to
the special court on Friday?
I'm still processing
the whole judgment to come to a considered opinion point-by-point. But I've
read and seen the media coverage. On the face of it, I feel completely outraged
by the complete disregard for eye-witness testimonies. These were witnesses who
actually faced the attack, were injured and stood the test of cross-examination
in court. We had 19 very strong 'occurrence witnesses' who pointed out how the
mob began building on February 28, 2002 from 9 am and began growing in its fury
and strength till 10.30 am. Many said, then DGP PC Pande came and went, many said
then joint CP MK Tandon also visited the spot around 10.30 am (the latter's
accepted this on record) with a striking force which did not take any action
though the 5,000-strong mob began flinging burning tyres and attacking the
society. I'm just aghast at why the judge disregarded such voluminous evidence
of what transpired between 9 am to 1 pm and why the SIT did not push this case
in an ethical way.
And you'd pointed
what you're now saying to the court too?
Our senior advocates
like SM Vohra, Salim Sheikh, Sadiq Sheikh were there every day making arguments
on behalf of the witnesses. 400 pages of such arguments in Gujarati are part of
the record as is our argument that then Ahmedabad CP PC Pandey, Joint CP MK
Tandon, Assistant CP PB Gondia and Assistant CP (city crime branch) SS
Chudasama be arraigned for negligence in duty. We get the feeling that the SIT
was out to protect the powerful perpetrators. So there's a sense of disbelief
at the judgement. Let's not forget that this was the second worst massacre
after Naroda Patiya (where the chargesheet said 97 people were killed while we
said 124). Here 69 people were killed. The targeting of Ehsan Jafri needs to be
seen in context with his campaigning against the then CM in the Rajkot assembly
by-election in February 2002. Yet it seems bizarre that apparently the
judegment says nothing happened till 1 pm when Jafri fired at the mob. It
appears to me that the judgment is not only diluting what happened but also
attempts to turn the narrative around.
Despite the despair
and despondency over the judgement,we've already begun working on our appeal in
the matter. And we'll do this independent of the SIT which is anyway going
through the motions as mere formality. For example, the public prosecutor for
the SIT RC Kodekar did not even argue conspiracy.
The MHA has
cancelled the FCRA licence of your NGO alleging several irregularities?
We challenged the
MHA/FCRA department’s order suspending our FCRA registration. The MHA has
completely ignored our detailed point-by-point response (on June 25, 2015) that
Sabrang Trust submitted following the June 5, 2015 'observations' of the
MHA/FCRA team subsequent to its on-the-spot inspection of the trust’s accounts
from April 9-11, 2015. The order mechanically repeats allegations of FCRA 2010
and FCRR 2011 and clearly shows it has been passed without any application of
mind and suffers from arbitrariness.
What about the
charge that Rs 50 lakh reimbursed to Sabrang Communications & Publishing
Private Limited (SCPPL) were transferred for personal gain?
To begin with, the
so-called “transfer” of Rs 50 lakh (between 2006-07 and 2013-14, i.e. 7 years)
by Sabrang Trust to SCPPL appears to be exaggerated as it doesn't tally with
the trust's audited accounts. The so-called “transfer” was in fact payment by
Sabrang Trust to SCPPL towards agreed monthly share of shared actual expenses
incurred on office/furniture and fixtures/office equipments/staff. None of this
amount was paid to me or Javed (Anand), and no rent's ever been charged to any
trust or entity for use of office space from my parents.
Even if you assume the
inspection team’s figures are right, it means an average of around Rs. 7
lakh/year or less than Rs. 60,000/month by Sabrang Trust towards shared actual
expenses incurred on: staff salaries (9 employees); repair and maintenance of
office space; repair, maintenance, upgradation of office equipments (including
12 computers, printers, photocopier, fax machine etc.); electricity bills etc.
Nowhere does FCRA, 10 or FCRR, 11 bar an association with FCRA registration
from a cost-saving, expenses-sharing arrangement with other association(s),
whether registered under FCRA or not.
Some of the
coverage around the FCRA licence cancellation has been quite venal?
I know it was a glass
of wine a few years ago, it was credit card bills later and it's come to ear
buds and sanitary napkins too. Why is the media being so gullible and not
questioning what's being said? Since our organisations don't have credit cards,
we use personal cards to book air and train tickets for work-related travel.
This is done with the consent of trustees and auditors. These expenses are then
reimbursed. As for the wine,
books, shoes, medicines, suitcases, haircuts and restaurant meals, they are all
paid from independent personal incomes. The Gujarat police deliberately
manipulated credit card details from personal accounts to create an impression
of misuse of public money. We live in Maharashtra, and not Gujarat where
there's prohibition. Why should there be such ruckus over a glass of wine?
You're accused of
embezzling funds raised to build a museum to riot victims in Ahmedabad's
The museum was just an
idea. There was no money/property exchanged. It took six years, after our petition
for transfer of the case in May 2002, until 2008, for the SIT to be appointed
by the SC. Why did it take so long? In between we thought since no one was
coming forward to redevelop the society perhaps we could develop it into a
museum. Despite what is being said, even today, if only the Jafris want to make
a museum of their own home, who can stop it?
You feel the media
isn't doing enough?
The amnesia in the
media, particularly some really sick TV channels is terrible. Some TV channels
are worse than khap panchayats. Many have approached me to speak and I told
them, "Call me and grill me point-by-point on every contentious question
and I'll answer it fully without avoiding anything." I am willing for this
to be a live show too. But I'm unwilling to subject myself to a pre-mediated
lopsided panel discussion, where I have to shout to match the crowd of other
voices to be heard. I told this even to my "friends" Barkha Dutt,
Rajdeep Sardesai and Vishnu Som, the same thing. It's an irony that some of the
loudest top journalists with 5-star lifestyles are judging us?
Why do you think
you're being targeted?
Why do you think? See
this began in 2004 when Zahira Sheikh turned hostile in the Best Bakery case
falsely alleging kidnapping, false affidavits and so on. It was proven that she
was lying. I filed another FIR in the Lunawada mass graves case in December
2005. Later we decided to part ways with Raees Khan Pathan following
differences. In 2010, when the Zakia Jafri case reached the SC, suddenly Raees
Khan was brought forward to complain against me. So in 2011, I was made an
accused in the chargesheet first filed six years ago! And they came to arrest
me five times. Thankfully the SC intervened and came to my rescue.
Don't you feel
concerned about putting yourself in harm's way?
I don't think like
that. The attacks on me and the intimidation is not something I wear on my
sleeve. Regardless of whether the media and others come ahead to support me,
we'll continue to fight. More than 570 families have stood behind us like a
rock, the odd Zahira and Raees Khan notwithstanding. Earlier I was
underestimating the threat and felt it was ok to get arrested. It was my lawyer
Kamini Jaiswal who warned me about getting arrested by the Gujarat police.
"They'll simply finish you. They won't let you come out." I really
don't care about the vilification, its always been an area of expertise with
fascists, but yes one can't undermine the threat to me and my family.
Bahujan Samaj Party
chief Mayawati on Sunday attacked the NDA government for cancelling
the licence of activist Teesta Setalvad-run Sabrang Trust to receive foreign
funds, terming it as “biased” action and saying that all social organisations
protesting the government’s “wrong” policies were being targeted. “The Centre is acting
against social organisations and NGOs protesting its wrong policies. Hence, the
registration of Setalvad’s NGO Sabrang was cancelled. This action appears to be
biased and is being protested at international level too,” she said addressing
a meeting of party office bearers, coordinators, MLAs and candidates for the
2017 assembly polls at BSP office.
She said: “the way the
Home Ministry official heading a probe to find the missing files related to the
encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan tutored witnesses, it showed in which
direction the BJP government is working.” Ms. Mayawati also
alleged that Hyderabad University Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide
“because of the HRD Ministry”.
She alleged that
ruling Samajwadi Party and BJP were hand in glove and “conspiring” to engineer
“Hindu-Muslim riots” ahead of the assembly polls to gain political mileage. BJP
raked up the issue of exodus of Hindus from Kairana, but SP did not counter it
timely. It showed they both are partners in the conspiracy,” she said.