THE arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad by the Gujarat Police on Saturday has elicited an outpouring of support and solidarity for the activist.
The arrest comes a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a plea challenging the Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to 64 people, including then chief minister Narendra Modi, in the 2002 Gujarat riots case. The plea was filed by Zakia Jafri whose husband was murdered during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Setalvad had pursued the case against Prime Minister Modi. She has been picked by the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) of the Gujarat Police from her house in Mumbai for allegedly committing forgery and fabricating evidence among other charges. She was later driven to Ahmedabad.
Condemning Setalwad’s arrest, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) demanded that the “false case against her be immediately withdrawn and the harassment stopped”. It said in a statement, “After the unfortunate SC decision to throw out the appeal filed by Zakia Jafri whose husband, Ehsan Jafri was brutally killed in the Gujarat pogrom, the Gujarat police has lost no time in arresting Teesta Setalvad who has stood with Ms Jafri like a rock. It is this and her other acts of exemplary courage for which she is being victimised.”
Calling Gujarat Police’s action an “ominous threat to all democratic-minded citizens not to dare to question the role of the State or the government”, the polit bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has condemned Setalvad’s arrest. A statement by the party said, “The action of the Gujarat administration in her arrest has been enabled by the questionable verdict of the three-member bench of the Supreme Court […].According to this verdict, any SIT established by the Court is to be considered outside the purview of judicial appeals and if anyone appeals against it, as did Zakia Jaffry and Teesta Setalvad in the present case, then they are charged with “abuse of process.” A fight for justice for 16 years is described in unusual derogatory terms as keeping the “pot boiling for ulterior design”.”
The statement also noted that earlier in April 2004, the Supreme Court itself had described the then government leaders as “modern-day Neros”.
Standing in solidarity with Setalvad and Jafri, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust said that her arrest can be ascribed to her decades-long fight for justice and human rights and against communal forces. “It is precisely because of this, to silence her and send a message to scare and silence others who fight for these rights, that she has been arrested,” read a statement released by the Trust.
Setalvad ‘Roughed up’, Says ‘I Fear for My Life’
Setalvad said that she was roughed up as she was picked up from her Mumbai home and taken to the Santacruz police station, where she was placed under arrest. At about 5:30 pm, just before being taken to Ahmedabad, Setalvad filed a handwritten complaint with the Santacruz Police Station saying, “I fear for my life.” In her complaint, Setalvad named Police Inspector J H Patel of the ATS Ahmedabad and said that he and a lady officer in civil clothes came into her bedroom and assaulted her when she demanded to speak to her lawyer. She has also stated that the assault left her with a bruise on her left hand and that she was not shown the First Information Report (FIR) or a warrant till her lawyer arrived.