Friday, March 24, 2017 MISCELLANY

Skip Navigation Links
 
link
 
link
SUPPLEMENT

Visitor Login










Muslims threatened in UP village after BJP win
Abhishek Dey
Scroll
 
It was 1 pm on Sunday and 75-year-old Ali Mohammad was getting hungry.  As he sat on a cot outside his hut in Jiyanagla village in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, he urged his daughter-in-law Mehzabeen to speed up the cooking. On the menu: a simmering egg curry, red and thick.
That morning, hardline Bharatiya Janata Party leader Adityanath had taken oath as chief minister of India’s largest state. But the prospect of lunch made Mohammed seem blithely indifferent to the day’s news.
 
Muslim villagers threatened
“How does it matter who the chief minister is?” asked Mohammad. “The party [BJP] must now prove that they deserve this remarkable victory in Uttar Pradesh. In our village, the first two things we need urgently are a decent road and jobs for the youth.”
More surprisingly, Mohammed also seemed nonchalant about the startling event that propelled his otherwise-nondescript village to national attention last week.
As residents woke up on the morning of Holi on March 13, they found pamphlets stuck on several walls and pillars threatening Jiyanagla’s Muslims with dire consequences if they do not leave by the end of this year.
“All Muslims are informed that they should leave the village by 30 December, 2017. If you do not leave the village, you shall be responsible for your actions. If you do not do so, we will do things in this village, similar to what Trump has been doing in America because Uttar Pradesh will now have a BJP government. So decide soon because you are no longer suitable for this village.”
Translation of pamphlets.
The anonymous writer of the pamphlet claimed to represent all the Hindus in the village, adding that the message has been issued under the guardianship of Adityanath. When the posters appeared, the name of the Hindutva leader was not being discussed as a possible candidate for the state’s top executive job. But his reputation was well-known: he faces several criminal cases, including charges of attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and rioting.
 
Police filed a case
When some villagers phoned the police the next day to report the posters, they refused to be officially listed as complainants, fearing for their safety. A police team that visited the village on March 14 found six posters – the other copies were already taken off by the villagers. But they had to take cognisance of the matter on their own.
A First Information Report (FIR) was registered at the Shishgarh Police Station for criminal intimidation and for promoting enmity between groups. But the people behind the act have not been identified so far. On the face of it, though, both the police and many Jiyanagla residents believe that the posters were the work of a misguided young person.
“We have questioned all internet café owners and photocopy shop owners in areas close to the village but have received no leads yet,” said Inspector Dalveer Singh, in charge of Shishgarh Police Station. “One thing is clear that the person who wrote the content of the pamphlet has good knowledge of current affairs. The person knows the name of Donald Trump and the reasons for which he is in the news.”
According to Rewa Ram, the husband of Jiyanagla village chief Kalavati Devi, the incident was a bad prank and the village has no history of communal violence. “It is surely the work of some young miscreant,” he said. “Elder people do not have time for such things. The accused can even be an outsider as a lot of people had come to the village on the night before Holi, when the grand celebratory fire [Holika Dahan] was lit.”
 
Living in Jiyanagla
Situated around 65 kilometres from Bareilly city, Jiyanagla sits amid fields of sugarcane and wheat. The village, which has a population of around 3,000 persons, is dominated by members of the Kurmi agricultural caste. The Kurmis own the farms on the peripheries of the village. Some members of the community work as teachers in the village primary school, the intermediate college nearby and in nearby towns like Shishgarh.
The village’s Muslims, who number less than 300, own no farmland and mostly belong to the Saifi community, popularly known as Muslim Lohars. They work as carpenters and ironsmiths. They have no separate hamlets within the village.
Ali Mohammad, 75, is a fourth-generation Jiyanagla resident. When he was younger, he used to make and repair agricultural tools for the Kurmis. But his younger relatives, like other young Muslims in the village, prefer to work in the area’s numerous brick kilns or as construction workers in nearby towns. They are paid more highly for these tasks than they would be if they had continued to make agricultural tools.
Mohammed and several other Muslim residents of the village agreed that the village is peaceful and has witnessed little religious violence so far.
On Sunday, no pamphlets were visible anywhere in the village. Neither were the police.
“How can you find pamphlets now?” asked Pradeep Kumar, the son of the village chief. “The villagers got rid of the pamphlets as soon as they noticed them. The matter had to be suppressed at the earliest otherwise it could have gone worse.”
 
No enmity exists
Kumar was sitting near the old village well with a group of elders, chatting about the sweets that they had distributed the previous evening when Adityanath was named chief minister. They all agreed that he is an “able leader”.
Villagers claim they are still mystified about the appearance of the posters. When they saw the posters, they say that they asked if anyone had seen the miscreants who put them up, but no one had an answer.  Some villagers claimed that they celebrated Holi only after they ascertained that the situation was under control.
Anokhe Lal, 50, who runs a shop in the village, said that the situation began to escalate when residents clicked photos of the pamphlets and shared them with friends and relatives in neighbouring villages through Whatsapp. This prompted the police had to register a case.
Among those who received the information through Whatsapp was Abid Hussain Sheikh, the chief of a village named Firozepur, 30 kilometres from Jiyanagla. Others in the village got the same message.
“It is a matter of shame that someone can stoop down to such level,” Sheikh said. “The police and district authorities must take immediate action instead of hushing down the matter.”
For now, though, none of Jiyanagla’s Muslim residents seem unduly perturbed by the pamphlets. Said Mohammed’s daugther-in-law Mehzabeen:
“Those who pasted the pamphlets in the village must know that we are not scared.”

Comment

Abhishek Dey
Scroll
 
It was 1 pm on Sunday and 75-year-old Ali Mohammad was getting hungry.  As he sat on a cot outside his hut in Jiyanagla village in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, he urged his daughter-in-law Mehzabeen to speed up the cooking. On the menu: a simmering egg curry, red and thick.
That morning, hardline Bharatiya Janata Party leader Adityanath had taken oath as chief minister of India’s largest state. But the prospect of lunch made Mohammed seem blithely indifferent to the day’s news.
 
Muslim villagers threatened
“How does it matter who the chief minister is?” asked Mohammad. “The party [BJP] must now prove that they deserve this remarkable victory in Uttar Pradesh. In our village, the first two things we need urgently are a decent road and jobs for the youth.”
More surprisingly, Mohammed also seemed nonchalant about the startling event that propelled his otherwise-nondescript village to national attention last week.
As residents woke up on the morning of Holi on March 13, they found pamphlets stuck on several walls and pillars threatening Jiyanagla’s Muslims with dire consequences if they do not leave by the end of this year.
“All Muslims are informed that they should leave the village by 30 December, 2017. If you do not leave the village, you shall be responsible for your actions. If you do not do so, we will do things in this village, similar to what Trump has been doing in America because Uttar Pradesh will now have a BJP government. So decide soon because you are no longer suitable for this village.”
Translation of pamphlets.
The anonymous writer of the pamphlet claimed to represent all the Hindus in the village, adding that the message has been issued under the guardianship of Adityanath. When the posters appeared, the name of the Hindutva leader was not being discussed as a possible candidate for the state’s top executive job. But his reputation was well-known: he faces several criminal cases, including charges of attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and rioting.
 
Police filed a case
When some villagers phoned the police the next day to report the posters, they refused to be officially listed as complainants, fearing for their safety. A police team that visited the village on March 14 found six posters – the other copies were already taken off by the villagers. But they had to take cognisance of the matter on their own.
A First Information Report (FIR) was registered at the Shishgarh Police Station for criminal intimidation and for promoting enmity between groups. But the people behind the act have not been identified so far. On the face of it, though, both the police and many Jiyanagla residents believe that the posters were the work of a misguided young person.
“We have questioned all internet café owners and photocopy shop owners in areas close to the village but have received no leads yet,” said Inspector Dalveer Singh, in charge of Shishgarh Police Station. “One thing is clear that the person who wrote the content of the pamphlet has good knowledge of current affairs. The person knows the name of Donald Trump and the reasons for which he is in the news.”
According to Rewa Ram, the husband of Jiyanagla village chief Kalavati Devi, the incident was a bad prank and the village has no history of communal violence. “It is surely the work of some young miscreant,” he said. “Elder people do not have time for such things. The accused can even be an outsider as a lot of people had come to the village on the night before Holi, when the grand celebratory fire [Holika Dahan] was lit.”
 
Living in Jiyanagla
Situated around 65 kilometres from Bareilly city, Jiyanagla sits amid fields of sugarcane and wheat. The village, which has a population of around 3,000 persons, is dominated by members of the Kurmi agricultural caste. The Kurmis own the farms on the peripheries of the village. Some members of the community work as teachers in the village primary school, the intermediate college nearby and in nearby towns like Shishgarh.
The village’s Muslims, who number less than 300, own no farmland and mostly belong to the Saifi community, popularly known as Muslim Lohars. They work as carpenters and ironsmiths. They have no separate hamlets within the village.
Ali Mohammad, 75, is a fourth-generation Jiyanagla resident. When he was younger, he used to make and repair agricultural tools for the Kurmis. But his younger relatives, like other young Muslims in the village, prefer to work in the area’s numerous brick kilns or as construction workers in nearby towns. They are paid more highly for these tasks than they would be if they had continued to make agricultural tools.
Mohammed and several other Muslim residents of the village agreed that the village is peaceful and has witnessed little religious violence so far.
On Sunday, no pamphlets were visible anywhere in the village. Neither were the police.
“How can you find pamphlets now?” asked Pradeep Kumar, the son of the village chief. “The villagers got rid of the pamphlets as soon as they noticed them. The matter had to be suppressed at the earliest otherwise it could have gone worse.”
 
No enmity exists
Kumar was sitting near the old village well with a group of elders, chatting about the sweets that they had distributed the previous evening when Adityanath was named chief minister. They all agreed that he is an “able leader”.
Villagers claim they are still mystified about the appearance of the posters. When they saw the posters, they say that they asked if anyone had seen the miscreants who put them up, but no one had an answer.  Some villagers claimed that they celebrated Holi only after they ascertained that the situation was under control.
Anokhe Lal, 50, who runs a shop in the village, said that the situation began to escalate when residents clicked photos of the pamphlets and shared them with friends and relatives in neighbouring villages through Whatsapp. This prompted the police had to register a case.
Among those who received the information through Whatsapp was Abid Hussain Sheikh, the chief of a village named Firozepur, 30 kilometres from Jiyanagla. Others in the village got the same message.
“It is a matter of shame that someone can stoop down to such level,” Sheikh said. “The police and district authorities must take immediate action instead of hushing down the matter.”
For now, though, none of Jiyanagla’s Muslim residents seem unduly perturbed by the pamphlets. Said Mohammed’s daugther-in-law Mehzabeen:
“Those who pasted the pamphlets in the village must know that we are not scared.”

Login to post comments


(0)



The Supreme Court must be above suspicion–but is it?
Arghya Sengupta in New Delhi
 
Questions of legality and propriety loom over the Supreme Court’s investigation of Kalikho Pul’s letter by judges implicated in it.
At the Roman Festival of Bona Dea, a woman-only ceremony in ancient Rome, a politician Clodius managed to enter, disguised as a woman. His purpose, unbeknownst to most, was to attempt to seduce Pompeia, Julius Caesar’s wife. Though Pompeia had little inkling of this, Caesar nonetheless divorced her. His reason –“even Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” – might seem an extreme and puritanical norm of propriety.
 
High level bribery
But it is a norm that the Supreme Court of India has used extensively to demand propriety from members of public service commissions, state politicians, public prosecutors and even selection authorities for engineering exams. However, when an extraordinary allegation is currently pending against two former chief justices of India (CJIs), the present chief justice of India and the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, next in line to be chief justice, the court and its conscience-keepers are surprisingly silent.
Kalikho Pul, the former chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, died leaving a long note talking about his early life, political career and the endemic nature of corruption in high places in the country. In the note, Kalikho alleged four instances of judicial corruption. He stated that a son of the present chief justice, as well as a certain Ram Avtar Sharma, approached his associates and demanded Rs 49 crore. He also said Aditya Misra, the brother of Justice Dipak Misra, demanded Rs 37 crore. Kalikho also said former chief justices H.L. Dattu and Altamas Kabir took bribes of Rs 28 crore and Rs 36 crore respectively.  All these approaches and bribes were with a view to securing favourable judicial orders.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment on the trust vote in the Arunachal Pradesh assembly, which went against Kalikho, these charges may ultimately turn out to be allegations made by a losing litigant. However, when such allegations are made in considerable detail, with the names and the exact amounts asked for, by a long-term public servant and someone who sacrificed his own life to lend credence to his views, the claims deserve greater respect, or at least due process.
 
Unusual, unlawful action
Unfortunately, a curious set of events ensued once Dangwimsai Pul, Kalikho’s wife, wrote a letter to the CJI asking for his sanction to proceed with a police investigation into the contents of the letter.  In a surprising move, the letter was converted, presumably by the CJI himself, since he is the master of the roster, into a criminal writ petition to be heard by the Supreme Court on the judicial side.
This was clearly contrary to the judgment of the Supreme Court in K.  Veeraswami vs Union of India and Others where the court held that if a complaint is made against the CJI, another “appropriate judge” would be the sanctioning authority. Further, the CJI’s decision to convert Kalikho’s letter to a criminal writ petition was absurd, since there was no evidence of a dispute that required judicial resolution. To convert a simple letter requiring administrative action according to the law into a petition on the judicial side was both unlawful and unusual.
But the critical question in this case is not one of legality — it is of propriety. In matters involving high functionaries of state, the Supreme Court has often ordered special investigation teams to uncover the truth, free of political interference. The SIT into the coal scam is a prominent recent example. In instances of judicial misconduct, the Supreme Court has requested judges who are suspected of corruption hangs to go on leave until the investigation is completed.
 
Degradation of propriety
Such a request was made to Justice P.D. Dinakaran, then chief justice of the Karnataka high court, when senior members of the Bar had made grave charges of misconduct. But it appears that the same principles of propriety do not apply to the Supreme Court itself. With great respect, one might have ordinarily expected the CJI to not exercise any authority, administrative or otherwise, in a matter where he has been, rightly or wrongly, implicated. Further, propriety might equally demand that the judges who are implicated go on leave, facilitating a free and fair investigation into the matter, if sanction is accorded.  But in a telling indictment of the degradation of norms of propriety in the higher judiciary, this appears to be wishful thinking.
On the contrary, both judges are continuing to lay down the law of the land for scores of litigants before them and the country at large.  This raises serious questions of the independence of the judiciary.  The Supreme Court has been zealously protective of its own independence – even the slightest whiff of governmental involvement in appointments or transfers is frowned upon, or declared unconstitutional.
However in a grave situation, as the current one, when investigating agencies under the supervision of the government have discretion whether to register a case against the named judges and the president on the aid and advice of the government (who must accord formal permission to permit the case to go ahead), not even the slightest move is taken by the court to protect its own independence.
 
Damaging rule of law
Scarcely has the rule of law been damaged so severely by judicial inaction. In the process, judicial independence is a casualty —seeming like a strategic sword to be wielded by the judiciary when its turf, rather than its actual impartiality, is under threat.
Ultimately, this is not a question limited to four judges and the allegations made against them. It is a question about preserving the moral authority of the court. If the Supreme Court genuinely believes that Caesar’s wife has to be above suspicion, then it is time to practice what it preaches. As Fali Nariman reminded us, “the citadel never falls, except from within”. Today, it appears to not just be falling but hurtling down. But the Supreme Court chooses to remain silent.
 
Arghya Sengupta is research director at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a New Delhi-based think tank. Views are personal.

Comment

Arghya Sengupta in New Delhi
 
Questions of legality and propriety loom over the Supreme Court’s investigation of Kalikho Pul’s letter by judges implicated in it.
At the Roman Festival of Bona Dea, a woman-only ceremony in ancient Rome, a politician Clodius managed to enter, disguised as a woman. His purpose, unbeknownst to most, was to attempt to seduce Pompeia, Julius Caesar’s wife. Though Pompeia had little inkling of this, Caesar nonetheless divorced her. His reason –“even Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” – might seem an extreme and puritanical norm of propriety.
 
High level bribery
But it is a norm that the Supreme Court of India has used extensively to demand propriety from members of public service commissions, state politicians, public prosecutors and even selection authorities for engineering exams. However, when an extraordinary allegation is currently pending against two former chief justices of India (CJIs), the present chief justice of India and the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, next in line to be chief justice, the court and its conscience-keepers are surprisingly silent.
Kalikho Pul, the former chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, died leaving a long note talking about his early life, political career and the endemic nature of corruption in high places in the country. In the note, Kalikho alleged four instances of judicial corruption. He stated that a son of the present chief justice, as well as a certain Ram Avtar Sharma, approached his associates and demanded Rs 49 crore. He also said Aditya Misra, the brother of Justice Dipak Misra, demanded Rs 37 crore. Kalikho also said former chief justices H.L. Dattu and Altamas Kabir took bribes of Rs 28 crore and Rs 36 crore respectively.  All these approaches and bribes were with a view to securing favourable judicial orders.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment on the trust vote in the Arunachal Pradesh assembly, which went against Kalikho, these charges may ultimately turn out to be allegations made by a losing litigant. However, when such allegations are made in considerable detail, with the names and the exact amounts asked for, by a long-term public servant and someone who sacrificed his own life to lend credence to his views, the claims deserve greater respect, or at least due process.
 
Unusual, unlawful action
Unfortunately, a curious set of events ensued once Dangwimsai Pul, Kalikho’s wife, wrote a letter to the CJI asking for his sanction to proceed with a police investigation into the contents of the letter.  In a surprising move, the letter was converted, presumably by the CJI himself, since he is the master of the roster, into a criminal writ petition to be heard by the Supreme Court on the judicial side.
This was clearly contrary to the judgment of the Supreme Court in K.  Veeraswami vs Union of India and Others where the court held that if a complaint is made against the CJI, another “appropriate judge” would be the sanctioning authority. Further, the CJI’s decision to convert Kalikho’s letter to a criminal writ petition was absurd, since there was no evidence of a dispute that required judicial resolution. To convert a simple letter requiring administrative action according to the law into a petition on the judicial side was both unlawful and unusual.
But the critical question in this case is not one of legality — it is of propriety. In matters involving high functionaries of state, the Supreme Court has often ordered special investigation teams to uncover the truth, free of political interference. The SIT into the coal scam is a prominent recent example. In instances of judicial misconduct, the Supreme Court has requested judges who are suspected of corruption hangs to go on leave until the investigation is completed.
 
Degradation of propriety
Such a request was made to Justice P.D. Dinakaran, then chief justice of the Karnataka high court, when senior members of the Bar had made grave charges of misconduct. But it appears that the same principles of propriety do not apply to the Supreme Court itself. With great respect, one might have ordinarily expected the CJI to not exercise any authority, administrative or otherwise, in a matter where he has been, rightly or wrongly, implicated. Further, propriety might equally demand that the judges who are implicated go on leave, facilitating a free and fair investigation into the matter, if sanction is accorded.  But in a telling indictment of the degradation of norms of propriety in the higher judiciary, this appears to be wishful thinking.
On the contrary, both judges are continuing to lay down the law of the land for scores of litigants before them and the country at large.  This raises serious questions of the independence of the judiciary.  The Supreme Court has been zealously protective of its own independence – even the slightest whiff of governmental involvement in appointments or transfers is frowned upon, or declared unconstitutional.
However in a grave situation, as the current one, when investigating agencies under the supervision of the government have discretion whether to register a case against the named judges and the president on the aid and advice of the government (who must accord formal permission to permit the case to go ahead), not even the slightest move is taken by the court to protect its own independence.
 
Damaging rule of law
Scarcely has the rule of law been damaged so severely by judicial inaction. In the process, judicial independence is a casualty —seeming like a strategic sword to be wielded by the judiciary when its turf, rather than its actual impartiality, is under threat.
Ultimately, this is not a question limited to four judges and the allegations made against them. It is a question about preserving the moral authority of the court. If the Supreme Court genuinely believes that Caesar’s wife has to be above suspicion, then it is time to practice what it preaches. As Fali Nariman reminded us, “the citadel never falls, except from within”. Today, it appears to not just be falling but hurtling down. But the Supreme Court chooses to remain silent.
 
Arghya Sengupta is research director at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a New Delhi-based think tank. Views are personal.

Login to post comments


(0)



 Book Review 

Teesta Setalvad: Foot soldier of the Indian Constitution

Binu Mathew
Countercurrent.org
 
I’m not a hot off the shelf book reader. Most of the books I read are suggestions from my friends or found during my reading or research.  When Teesta Setalvad’s memoir “Foot Soldier of the Constitution” appeared I simply could not resist. Her indomitable spirit in spite all the wild allegations, smearing of reputation, false cases, public humiliation, personal attacks and trolling amazed me. I wanted to know what keeps her growing. Thankfully, this book has all the answers.
We all know Teesta Setalvad as the face of the Gujarat justice movement. In fact, she is the engine that powers this movement.  Without her, could there have been fight for justice for the victims of Gujarat pogrom? Without Teesta and her team at “Citizens for justice and Peace” I sincerely doubt that there could have been so many convictions including that of a minister.
 
How constitution failed the poor
But Teesta’s work for justice and communal harmony doesn’t start in 2002. It started way back in 1984 communal violence in Bombay. She also was also at the forefront reporting and organising for peace and harmony in the post Babri-Masjid riots in Bombay during 1992-93. It was these experiences that shaped Teesta the “Foot Soldier of the Constitution”.
During those periods of mayhem and lawlessness, she saw the cracks in the Republic of India. She saw how constitution failed for the poor and the marginalised. She also saw how the so called fourth pillar of our republic, the media, failed in its duties. That’s why Teesta and her partner Javed Anand started ‘Communalism Combat’.
Their work at Communalism Combat at is one of the highest peaks of modern journalism in India. Teesta and Javed were prophets. By meticulously accumulating facts, assessing it with their experience, their insights warned us of what is in store for India. Cover story after cover story, they warned us of the fault-lines of communal harmony in India. They feared and worried about the growing communal viciousness in Gujarat. They saw it coming. They warned us. But nobody took heed. In 2003 Angana Chatterjee, through Communalism Combat, warned of another Gujarat shaping up in Orissa and it happened in Kandhamal in 2008, where more than 100 Christians were massacred by the Hindutva forces.
Coming back to my initial question ‘what keeps Teesta going’ against all odds? Read this book and you will get the answer. I’ll share with you what I understood. Her dogged commitment to constitutionalism.
 
She ensured a minister’s conviction
Teesta had traveled across Gujarat doing stories for Communalism Combat. She knew the pulse of Gujarat. She saw it coming. When it happened, fortunately she had so many contacts in Gujarat. Many victims called her up, frantically to save their lives. Teesta acted like a mission control room and called up police officials, civil society activists and whoever she could get hold of asking them to save lives. I believe, in those traumatic days, she might have saved the lives of many helpless people. We must salute her just for that.
Risking her life she went to Gujarat where she was physically attacked many times. She helped survivors of the communal carnage get help from as many quarters as possible. Then she began her legal battle. Taking up one case after another, pouring over tens of thousands of documents, she and her team meticulously built up case after case, that resulted in the conviction of 117 perpetrators of communal violence including Maya Kodnani, a minister in the then Modi state cabinet.
Through her life as a journalist, then as an activist for justice she saw the wide cracks in the implementation of our constitution. Gujarat pogrom was one the greatest constitutional failures that the country had ever seen. What followed was not much different. Teesta meticulously narrates the constitutional failure of our executive, legislature, judiciary and the fourth pillar, the media.
It is her stubborn commitment to constitutionalism and justice that drives this foot soldier of Indian Constitution. It is this commitment that gives her energy to fight all her battles.
 
Help Teesta, save constitution
It is sad that this fighter for constitutionalism being targeted, vilified to the point of crucifixion. When our constitution faces one of the greatest threats in the history of this republic, reading this book will give you immense courage and strength. Standing up for justice is our constitutional right. Standing up for Teesta Setalvad in this moment of crisis also a way of protecting the constitution.
Finally an appreciation of the style of the book. It’s a short book.
Teesta could have a written a voluminous book, given her experiences.
But she kept it short and to the point. It is a compelling reading.  You won’t put down the book once you started reading. It is a must read for all those who value our constitution and constitutionalism.  Thanks to LeftWord Books for publishing this wonderful memoir.
 
Binu Mathew is the editor of www.countercurrents.org. He can be reached at editor@countercurrents.org

Comment

Binu Mathew
Countercurrent.org
 
I’m not a hot off the shelf book reader. Most of the books I read are suggestions from my friends or found during my reading or research.  When Teesta Setalvad’s memoir “Foot Soldier of the Constitution” appeared I simply could not resist. Her indomitable spirit in spite all the wild allegations, smearing of reputation, false cases, public humiliation, personal attacks and trolling amazed me. I wanted to know what keeps her growing. Thankfully, this book has all the answers.
We all know Teesta Setalvad as the face of the Gujarat justice movement. In fact, she is the engine that powers this movement.  Without her, could there have been fight for justice for the victims of Gujarat pogrom? Without Teesta and her team at “Citizens for justice and Peace” I sincerely doubt that there could have been so many convictions including that of a minister.
 
How constitution failed the poor
But Teesta’s work for justice and communal harmony doesn’t start in 2002. It started way back in 1984 communal violence in Bombay. She also was also at the forefront reporting and organising for peace and harmony in the post Babri-Masjid riots in Bombay during 1992-93. It was these experiences that shaped Teesta the “Foot Soldier of the Constitution”.
During those periods of mayhem and lawlessness, she saw the cracks in the Republic of India. She saw how constitution failed for the poor and the marginalised. She also saw how the so called fourth pillar of our republic, the media, failed in its duties. That’s why Teesta and her partner Javed Anand started ‘Communalism Combat’.
Their work at Communalism Combat at is one of the highest peaks of modern journalism in India. Teesta and Javed were prophets. By meticulously accumulating facts, assessing it with their experience, their insights warned us of what is in store for India. Cover story after cover story, they warned us of the fault-lines of communal harmony in India. They feared and worried about the growing communal viciousness in Gujarat. They saw it coming. They warned us. But nobody took heed. In 2003 Angana Chatterjee, through Communalism Combat, warned of another Gujarat shaping up in Orissa and it happened in Kandhamal in 2008, where more than 100 Christians were massacred by the Hindutva forces.
Coming back to my initial question ‘what keeps Teesta going’ against all odds? Read this book and you will get the answer. I’ll share with you what I understood. Her dogged commitment to constitutionalism.
 
She ensured a minister’s conviction
Teesta had traveled across Gujarat doing stories for Communalism Combat. She knew the pulse of Gujarat. She saw it coming. When it happened, fortunately she had so many contacts in Gujarat. Many victims called her up, frantically to save their lives. Teesta acted like a mission control room and called up police officials, civil society activists and whoever she could get hold of asking them to save lives. I believe, in those traumatic days, she might have saved the lives of many helpless people. We must salute her just for that.
Risking her life she went to Gujarat where she was physically attacked many times. She helped survivors of the communal carnage get help from as many quarters as possible. Then she began her legal battle. Taking up one case after another, pouring over tens of thousands of documents, she and her team meticulously built up case after case, that resulted in the conviction of 117 perpetrators of communal violence including Maya Kodnani, a minister in the then Modi state cabinet.
Through her life as a journalist, then as an activist for justice she saw the wide cracks in the implementation of our constitution. Gujarat pogrom was one the greatest constitutional failures that the country had ever seen. What followed was not much different. Teesta meticulously narrates the constitutional failure of our executive, legislature, judiciary and the fourth pillar, the media.
It is her stubborn commitment to constitutionalism and justice that drives this foot soldier of Indian Constitution. It is this commitment that gives her energy to fight all her battles.
 
Help Teesta, save constitution
It is sad that this fighter for constitutionalism being targeted, vilified to the point of crucifixion. When our constitution faces one of the greatest threats in the history of this republic, reading this book will give you immense courage and strength. Standing up for justice is our constitutional right. Standing up for Teesta Setalvad in this moment of crisis also a way of protecting the constitution.
Finally an appreciation of the style of the book. It’s a short book.
Teesta could have a written a voluminous book, given her experiences.
But she kept it short and to the point. It is a compelling reading.  You won’t put down the book once you started reading. It is a must read for all those who value our constitution and constitutionalism.  Thanks to LeftWord Books for publishing this wonderful memoir.
 
Binu Mathew is the editor of www.countercurrents.org. He can be reached at editor@countercurrents.org

Login to post comments


(0)



METROPOLITAN
EDITORIAL
COMMENTS
INTERNATIONAL
BUSINESS
INFOTECH
CULTURE
MISCELLANY
AVIATOUR
LETTERS
LAST WORD
FOUNDING EDITOR: ENAYETULLAH KHAN; EDITOR: SAYED KAMALUDDIN
Contents Copyrighted © by Holiday Publication Limited
Mailing address 30, Tejgaon Industrial Area, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh.
Phone 880-2-8170462, 8170463, 8170464 Fax 880-2-9127927 Email holiday@bangla.net
Site Managed By: Southtech Limited
Southtech Limited does not take any responsibility for any news content of this site