An extract from #TeestaSetalvad ‘s chilling memoir – Foot Soldier of the Constitution
Excerpted from Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir, Teesta Setalvad
The media has been appalling in reporting the Gulberg massacre case and the Zakia Jafri petition. Since 2006, when the criminal complaint was sought to be filed, till date, there hasn’t really been a sober and considered discussion on national television about what the case seeks to do. For a few brief hours, around 15 April 2013, after the Protest Petition was filed, a few channels projected the wealth of evidence that had been unearthed. To be lost again, in the deliberate and calculated slander campaign that was to follow.
My experience in going on Arnab Goswami’s show on Times Now is indicative of the very poor situation in the media, especially the electronic media. Meenakshi Lekhi, whose father-in-law had insulted me in the Supreme Court in 2004, is of course with the BJP. She suggested on the show that Zakia Jafri, the co-complainant in the Gulberg case, had withdrawn her complaint. I refuted this and said that Meenakshi Lekhi was uttering a falsehood. I added that the Supreme Court has in fact treated Zakia Jafri’s complaint as a First Information Report and has asked that either a charge sheet or a closure report be filed. I urged the anchor Arnab Goswami not to allow factual inaccuracies to go unchallenged. He breezily turned to Meenakshi Lekhi and asked her to respond to me. There was no attempt to ask her to stay with the facts. I am not sure if a journalist of Goswami’s seniority was simply unaware of the facts or he simply didn’t want to state the facts. It is hard to believe that he did not know that Zakia Jafri had not changed any of her statements in the courts (perjury). Or that he was not aware that the BJP’s elected MLA Madhu Srivastava refused to cooperate with the Supreme Court investigation and give his voice sample to prove that he was not the person who openly claimed to have ‘induced’ Zahira Shaikh to have changed her version in Court. It was harder to believe that he didn’t know that Supreme Court had taken cognizance of Zakia Jafri’s complaint as an FIR. Seeing that the moderator lacked the integrity and intelligence to call spade a spade I walked out of the show.
Believing in the law and due process as I do, it has taken me a while to process that some lawyers just blatantly lie. Meenakshi Lekhi mentioned Zahira Sheikh on the show. As an Editor of Times Now and as an anchor of a Prime Time show, Goswami – who consistently displays his unprofessional bias by loading his newshour ‘panels’ to twist the tale – had also completely shirked his commitment to facts. Who in this country among senior journalists and editors – and who run ‘shows’ on ‘law and legal jurisprudence’ – would not know that Zahira had been put behind bars for a year by the Supreme Court for perjury? This was a historic judgment where for the first time a victim was put behind bars. It was also a strong message from the Supreme Court that lies will not be tolerated. Yet Goswami allowed his ‘newshour’ to continue as he has often done, with no respect for the truth, or facts. And allowed his ‘favourite’ Lekhi to spin lies on television.
But Arnab Goswami was not alone. The spectrum of the press seemed eager to sensationalize the Gujarat Police’s version of events and to ignore the facts. Or else the press seemed keen to please the Prime Minister.
Most powerful has been the open letter from Zakia Appa posted on Facebook, as abuse was sought to be heaped upon me and this post by her daughter Nishrin:
Gujarat ki baat niklegi to Ahsan Jafri ki baat aayegi . . .
aur justice ke liye ladne ki baat aaygi to M.C. Setalvad, India’s Being Their Targe T first Attorney General ki grand daughter Teesta Setalvad ki baat aayegi . . .
aur baat nikalegi toh phir dur talak jaayegi . . .
When the self-obsessed Narendra Modi had told the nation to ‘post selfies’ with their daughters as a tribute to the girl child, Nishrin had posted hers, with Ahsansaab, massacred brutally in Ahmedabad, on 28 February 2002.
I’m not always sure what motivates me to keep at it. Indira Jaisingh, an old friend and comrade in arms, says that my parents named me for ‘a river in Bangladesh which flows fearlessly across borders’. There is also a clearer motivation. Soon after the 1992 riots, at a public meeting in Mumbai, many of us human rights activists, including Indira and I had agreed that if we had fought for justice against the perpetrators of the 1984 killings in Delhi, then the violence of 1992-93 might not have happened. It was the culture of impunity that had to be punctured. If in 1993 the findings of the Justice Srikrishna Commission had been accepted, and if the courts had convicted all the killers – including the instigators at the highest level – then 2002 might not have happened. During my struggle for bail, Indira Jaisingh remembered this discussion. ‘It is this understanding that compels her to continue with the fight against the killers of the 2002 carnage. What we are witnessing is the power of the state and its terrorising arm, the CBI, to mount a raid on Teesta’s home and office to prove that she misused foreign funds versus the power of the courts to hold power to account. Who will win this battle? It is the courts of this country that are on trial, not Teesta.’ My challenge is to fight the culture of impunity. That is what I have been motivated to do.
This long and dreary battle continues and when justice sometimes comes. it redeems our faith. One such moment was on 12 April 2004. It was the Supreme Court judgment in the Best Bakery case. The court said,