Teesta Setalvad: Heroine Or Hypocrite?

18/07/2016 1:28 PM IST | Updated 19/07/2016 9:31 AM IST
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Teesta Setalvad is a name that's appeared frequently in the media since 2002. She has been portrayed variously as a crusader for justice and an embezzler of funds, as a heroine and a hypocrite.

The purpose of this post is not to paint Setalvad in any particular way but to provide readers with the necessary facts behind her life and work so that they can research further and form an independent picture of her. This is a timeline of Teesta Setalvad.

9 February 1962: Teesta Setalvad is born is Mumbai. She goes on to study at Bombay University, and briefly works as a reporter in mainstream journalism.

August 1993: Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, leave their regular jobs to begin a monthly advocacy magazine called Communalism Combat.

2000: Communalism Combat wins the Prince Claus Award; by now Setalvad has established a reputation for being a champion of minority rights.

February 2002 - March 2002: Following the Godhra train burning, Gujarat is immersed in communal rioting that leaves more than 2000 people dead and 150,000 displaced.

28 February 2002: The Gulbarg society, a Muslim neighbourhood in Ahmadabad, is vandalized; 35 people die.

1 March 2002: Rioters burn down the Best Bakery in Vadodara. The mobs kill 14 people.

1 April 2002: Along with her husband and others, Setalvad sets up an NGO named Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) to litigate against the Gujarat government, claiming complicity on the part of the ruling party's politicians during the riots.

10 June 2002: Setalvad testifies at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom against the Gujarat government.

12 April 2004: Setalvad gets the Supreme Court to move the trial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat. The Supreme Court also ordered the re-investigation of cases against 21 people acquitted in the riots cases.

August 2005: Setalvad is given a clean chit by the Supreme Court after being accused of pressurizing the key witness (Zaheera Sheikh) of the Best Bakery case to make statements in a certain way. Zaheera Sheikh is awarded a 1-year jail sentence for perjury.

January 2008: Setalvad sends an official proposal to the Gulbarg Society that she would like to convert the ruins of the Society into a memorial named the "Museum of Resistance". The same year, in June, the Society agrees and donations are sought. It is decided that the money will be collected Sabrang Communications, the organization which funds Setalvad's magazine, Communalism Combat.

14 April 2009: The Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the Supreme Court to investigate the Gujarat riot cases suffers a report leak. The leaked report accuses Setalvad and CJP of "spicing up" riot incidents. The report declared that many incidents publicized by the NGO never took place, and accused Setalvad of "tutoring" 22 witnesses.

16 April 2009: The CJP claims that the leaked report was a report by the Gujarat Government and not the SIT.

22 April 2009: The chairman of the SIT and the Supreme Court condemn the report leakage, call it a breach of confidentiality. The chairman says, "The leakage appears to be inspired by dubious motives," but neither confirms nor denies the allegations against Setalvad.

February 2013: 12 residents of the Gulbarg Society lodge a complaint with the Ahmadabad Police against Setalvad and others, accusing them of misappropriating funds meant for the memorial. Setalvad writes to the police, refuting the claims.

4 January 2014: The Ahmadabad Police file a report against Setalvad alleging fraudulent collection of money for the memorial. Setalvad alleges that she is being framed.

23 February 2015: After filing for anticipatory bail first in the Bombay High Court (rejected due to no jurisdiction) and then an Ahmadabad sessions court (rejected again), and then the Gujarat High Court (again rejected), Setalvad's plea is given to a new bench in the Supreme Court.

6 March 2015: The HRD Ministry sets up a committee to probe the charges against Setalvad's NGO.

14 July 2015: The CBI carries out raids at Setalvad's residence and office in Mumbai. This happens 6 days after the CBI files a case accusing her of violating the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) by accepting $290,000 from the US-based Ford Foundation. Setalvad accuses "political vendetta" and alleged that the raid happened in spite of her assuring "full cooperation with the CBI".

25 July 2015: The Bombay High Court grants Setalvad interim relief for 2 weeks, says she can't be arrested till 10 August 2015.

16 June 2016: The central government cancels permanent registration of Sabrang Trust under the FCRA.

Teesta Setalvad's saga has gained national attention. Some accuse the government of misusing State machinery to charge her with false cases and interfering with the judicial process. Others claim that she lied about many of the riot cases, tampered with evidence and witnesses, and mismanaged funds meant for the memorial at Gulbarg Society. Only time will tell how this case will play out.

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