Teesta Setalvad, a journalist and activist based out of Mumbai and a Padma Shri, is a founding trustee and secretary of the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) established in 2002 in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, with one area of work being providing legal assistance to victims of the riots.
She was among the first activists to take up the cases of riot victims in Gujarat in 2002, finally leading the Supreme Court to set up a special investigation team to probe the post-Godhra riots, six years later, under former CBI director R K Raghavan. Setalvad has also faced several allegations over the years.
Setalvad first took on then CM Narendra Modi head on when in March 2007, in a special criminal application before the Gujarat HC, she named herself as a co-petitioner of Zakia Jafri, who had sought an FIR against Modi and 61 other politicians, bureaucrats and police officers for their alleged role in the 2002 riots. She also sought a CBI inquiry against Modi.
The petition and Setalvad’s locus standi in the case were rejected, but she moved the apex court, which asked the SIT to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations. However, her falling out with Raees Khan, formerly a CJP member and a field worker on behalf of the CJP at Ahmedabad, saw him getting back with allegations of tutoring witnesses.
In 2018, another FIR was lodged at the Ahmedabad DCB police station against Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand based upon a complaint by Raees accusing them of misappropriation of grants released for Sabrang NGO in 2014 instead for personal use. A petition moved by Setalvad and Anand to quash the same remains pending before the Gujarat HC.
In an FIR in 2014 by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, some victims of the Gulberg Society accused Setalvad, Anand and Jafri’s son Tanveer of criminal breach of trust, cheating, criminal conspiracy etc, wherein it was alleged that foreign donations received for establishment of a museum at Gulberg Society were used for other purposes, including Setalvad’s personal use. Bank accounts of the NGO trusts in two banks — IDBI and Union Bank — were frozen to this effect.
A source says Setalvad, 60, was already actively involved with human rights through the Mumbai-based NGO Sabrang Trust when the Gujarat riots took place. “She came to Gujarat, spoke to the victims and decided to pursue their cases.”
Setalvad took up several Gujarat riot cases, including of the Gulberg Society victims, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam victims, Sardarpura, Dipda Darwaja victims, Ode victims and the Best Bakery case in Vadodara.
In 2006, charges of allegedly hurting religious feelings, fabricating false evidence, trespassing on burial places among other charges, were slapped against Setalvad, Raees and 10 others by the Panchmahals police for allegedly carrying out unauthorised digging at the spot where the bodies of 28 Muslims from Pandervada village, killed during the 2002 riots, had been buried by the administration. A petition by Setalvad for quashing of this FIR also remains pending before the Gujarat HC.
Setalvad is the granddaughter of M C Setalvad, India’s first Attorney General. Her great grandfather Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad was one of the three Indian members in the Hunter Commission that investigated the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. The daughter of a lawyer, she began her career as a journalist in Mumbai. In 1993, she launched a monthly magazine, Communalism Combat, along with her husband, setting up an organisation, Sabrang Communications, to provide information and analysis on communal politics in India.
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