By Mohd Naushad Khan
On September 2, the Supreme Court granted interim bail to social activist and human rights defender Teesta Setalvad, who was detained by the Gujarat Police over an alleged conspiracy to send innocent persons to jail by purportedly misleading the investigation into the 2002 Gujarat riots case. Her release was demanded by a number of activists, journalists, members of civil society, and rights organisations, who also questioned the circumstances surrounding her detention.
In her first interview after she was granted bail, activist-journalist Teesta Setalvad told NDTV on September 5, that she had “expected due process of law, like the issue of notice, to be followed and not the kind of crackdown which happened” in her case. Describing her police custody as “strange”, Setalvad also pointed out that she was called for questioning only once, for just three hours, during her entire police remand period of six days.
She added, “She had a “strange” experience with police custody as she was called for questioning only once (from 11 pm to 2:30 am) during the entire six-day period, when she was kept in the police remand.” I was just sitting around the rest of the time,” she said. Setalvad further stressed that India needs to realise the importance of personal freedom. “Incarceration cannot be norm. The SC ruling that bail hearing for undertrials needs to happen within 2 to 3 weeks should be taken seriously,” she said.
On the bail to Teesta Setalvad, MR Shamshad, a Supreme Court lawyer, said, “These interventions of courts are examples to see how to keep a check on arbitrary exercises of the powers of executives. It was a timely, balanced and polite way of dealing with arbitrary arrest.”
John Dayal, a noted social and human rights activist, while sharing his opinion on her release with Radiance, said, “I am happy lawyer and activist Teesta Setalvad has been given bail by the Supreme Court of India September 2, although she has had to surrender her passport. But common people may not understand if this is routine or if the court or the government fears she may abscond and seek refuge in some other country. Many Indian criminals, including some very rich men, are in hiding in the UK and elsewhere and have defied the government’s full power to get them back home to stand trial for their crimes against the Indian people.”
He further said, “The Catholic community, of which I am one, has faith in the highest court of the land, much as every other citizen. In fact, we have approached the court ourselves, seeking justice for Dalit Christians who have been denied their constitutional rights of protection of the law and affirmative action for seventy years. We are also in support of other Christian petitions before the Supreme Court of India, asking it to instruct central and state governments to protect the community which is facing repeated attacks from members of the Sangh Parivar, and in the last few days, from some political elements in the Sikh community in Punjab.
“We also hope the Supreme Court will soon order the release on bail not just of Teesta’s fellow prisoners, police officers R B Sreekumar, Sanjiv Bhatt and others. We also hope the court will accept the bail applications of Kerala journalist Kappan, JNU and Jamia scholars and many others who have been in jail for years without trial under stringent laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Among them are human rights activists, professors, lawyers and even poets. We remember that the 84-year-old Jesuit Father Stan Swamy died a prisoner without the concerned courts listening to his appeals for release on medical bail.”
Dayal argued, “We are happy the Chief Justice of India asked probing questions of the governments of India and Gujarat and of the High Court why Teesta’s bail application had not been heard for as long as two months. The bench even asked if the police had discovered anything new in two months of questioning her. They had to admit they had found nothing new. In question is not just the case of one activist such as Teesta Setalvad or one case relating to Gujarat. The denial of bail has been used as an instrument of punishment. And at the receiving end are human rights activists, writers, and anyone else who may be a dissenter or may differ from the government. In recent times, courts have sought to punish activists for moving public rights on behalf of Dalits, women, Adivasis and other marginalised persons.”
“As religious minorities, we seek a rule of law in which everyone, rich or poor, majority or minority, woman, or man, Dalit, Adivasi and the marginalised can have faith. Our survival depends on a robust system of rule of law and implantation of constitutional guarantees. The Supreme Court is a protector of the guarantees of the constitution,” said Dayal who is also the spokesperson of the All India Catholic Union.
“Human Rights are bogus for the BJP and anyone advocating for the same will be dealt with state oppression; the arrest of Teesta Setalvad is no exception. Her efforts to seek justice for the Gujarat riot victims were one of confrontation with Narendra Modi. This was never liked by the current regime. Hence her arrest was to curb a voice and quest for vengeance. Although her bail from the Supreme Court has provided her with a sense of relief but until she is set free from all charges, justice won’t be served,” said Dr. Maskoor Ahmad Usmani, former President, AMUSU, and leader of Indian National Congress.
“Back in 2017-2018, when I was the President of AMUSU, we had honoured Teesta with title “Iron Lady” while giving life membership of historic Students Union of AMU. She always fought fearlessly against the right wing culprits of Gujarat riots,” said Maskoor.