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Teesta Setalvad: A lady with a beacon
The famous Urdu poet Majaz Lucknawi had one said about women: 'Terey mathe pa yeh aanchal bahut he khoob hai lakin, too iss aanchal ko ek parcham bana leti to achcha tha' (Beautiful looks the veil that graces your forehead. How wonderful it would appear if you make it a flag of rebellion). Chandbibi of Ahmednagar and Jhansi Ki Rani had taken up the arms much before Majaz was born. These brave women had written history rather made history. There have been several glittering stars in the gallant galaxy whose names inspire the human civilization in their own fields. My subject today is Teesta Setalvad, the maverick social worker, human right activist and journalist.

This article was long overdue. For some unknown abstract reasons I had been postponing to write it. To think first, the dialogues of tutor ‘Twitter’ had always disoriented as I had never seen the vulgarity and verbal violence as it was going on this social media. It has been more reprehensible as it was one sided. You write one word against Gujarat’s present administration and the hell it let lose upon you.

Super fast response overwhelming would appear with all threatening icons and messages. Speak a word against RSS or BJP you feel terror before your computer screen. All fake identities with hundreds of different names would take you down. Congress, the sleeping giant of Indian politics was unaware or felt unnecessary to check that front of social media. Of late, there seems to have taken place some change of guard as you can find more and more individuals responding against the filthy language used against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul, Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and Sushil Kumar Shinde.

Uninhibited venom is spewed against Muslim community who are found struggling to give a proper response. In that environment any word of praise for the warriors of human rights like Teesta Setalvad or Malika Sarabahi would have been an open invitation for derisive and abusive language, and that was what I thought to avoid. I would have been reluctant even today had I not read a quote of Father of Nation in a book published in 1936. It says:

“The main purpose of life is to live rightly, think rightly, act rightly. The soul must languish when we give all our thought to the body.”

I decided to write about Setalvad today. I admired her for courage, grit, conviction, dedication and achievements. Who is Teesta Setalvad and what is her contribution to the human rights and struggle for justice?

She is an empowered woman who, with her daring husband Javed Anand, is making history as they both have fought the incredible battle against heaviest odds; against a powerful and crafty state administration which used the state machinery with impunity against the hapless minorities. Her compassionate and tireless dedication convinced the Supreme Court of India to transfer the riot-related court cases outside the state of Gujarat. With the human right stalwarts and social workers like Malika Sarabhai she kept the collective consciousness of country alive against the tentacles of fascism.

Of course, she had met several setbacks, names-calling and derisions in her voyage. In 2004, she was accused of pressuring Zahira Sheikh, a key witness in Best Bakery Case. In 2009, The Times Of India published a story claiming that SIT, set up by Supreme Court to investigate and expedite the Gujarat riot cases, found that Teesta Setalvad had cooked cases of violence to spice up the incident. SIT was headed, at that time, by a former Director of CBI Mr. R.K. Raghavan.

The Times Of India published a letter the very next day from ‘Citizens of Justice and Peace’, an NGO run by Teesta, claiming that the report in question was not SIT Report but a report of Gujarat government. The author of the original report responded by saying “My report was based on SIT Report and not any document circulated by Gujarat government.” Of which Mr. R.K. Raghavan put the remark: “The alleged reported leaks appear to be inspired by dubious motives and I can’t confirm such claims.”

Subsequently, an article by Prakash Bhanu Mehta, the President of Centre of Policy Research, New Delhi appeared in the same paper which states:  “My intention was not to expose Teesta. I’ve no competence and desire to do. I was just stuck by the fact that seemed to an important story, carried by a credible newspaper.

Meanwhile, her fight against the culprits of the cruel carnage of Gujarat 2002 moves on, her struggle to bring justice for those who were ruthlessly massacred with the complicity of state machinery is still going. Her courage and determination has helped to build the spirit of defiance in the hearts of victims. She has brought an alert for the potential dictators and tyrants that the ugly deeds do come home to roast.

She was born in 1962 to a famous lawyer Atul Setalvad and Sita Setalvad. Her grandfather M.C. Setalvad was India’s first Attorney General. She is a post graduate in Philosophy from Bombay University 1983 batch. Initially she had worked with ‘The Daily’, ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘Business India’. The Bombay riots became the turning point in her struggle. In 1997, she founded the KHOJ movement. It was a project that focused upon the prejudices that were inducted in the Indian School Books to malign the minorities. She, with her husband Javed Anand, a journalist and human right activist decided to give up their regular jobs and started a monthly magazine “Communal Combat.”

2002 Gujarat riots shook the foundation of democracy and assailed the Ganga Jamni Indian culture. Every rational patriotic Indian felt that venom of communalism and the sabers of fanaticism must be met with all possible resources available at the disposal of civilized society. For her dedication and achievements she was conferred many awards. Some of them are as follows:

PUCL journalism Human Rights Award – 1993

Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding Women Journalist – 1993

Maharana Mewar Foundation’s Hakim Khan Sur Award – 1999

Human Right Award of Dalit Liberate Educational Trust – 2000

Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhawna Award – 2002

The Nuremburg Human Rights Award – 2003

The Nani Palkhiwala Award – 2004

M A Thomas National Human Right Award – 2004

Padamshree in 2007

FIMA Excellence Award – 2009

Parliamentarians for Global Action Defender of Democracy Award jointly with Mr. Helen Clark, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Her journey on a difficult terrain is still on…

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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