Teesta Setalvad and the miracle of women’s justice

In India, Narendra Modi’s governet is going to extraordinary lengths to silence and crush social justice activist Teesta Setalvad. While the Indian press has taken up the story, the world press, with the exception of Reuters, has chosen to look the other way. Teesta Setalvad has refused to look the other way, and that’s why she’s in trouble.

In February 2002 “intercommunal” violence erupted in the Indian state of Gujarat. Within a week, over 1000 Muslims had been killed. From the outset, Teesta Setalvad fixed everyone’s eyes on the violence and then on the State’s role in the intensity and expanse of that violence. Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time.

While the Modi administration was trying to “explain” the violence as communal, Teesta Setalvad wrote, in 2002, “Despite the fact that the minority community was being attacked by huge and well-armed mobs, Muslims seemed to have been the main target of police firing. Of the 40 people killed in police firing at Morarji Chowk and Charodia Chowk in Ahmedabad on 28 February all were Muslim.”

Women and children were targeted with extreme sexual violence and other forms of torture. Again, Teesta Setalvad immediately made sure everyone understood the police participation in this, “Women bore the brunt of police repression. They were subjected to verbal abuse of a highly sexualized nature and often mercilessly beaten. Even pregnant women were brutally beaten; indeed they seemed to have attracted special attention from the police, and in many cases, the beating was accompanied by statements such as `Let it die before it is born’.”

Teesta Setalvad insisted that the facts must first be determined and then adjudicated. She headed the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, which investigated the entire situation, including the initial incidents, and found rampant and systematic violence against women and girls. The Tribunal worked assiduously and at the end of 2002 released its three volume findings, Crime Against Humanity.

Teesta Setalvad then founded the magazine Communalism Combat; the ngo Citizens for Justice and Peace; and the human rights organization Sabrang, and kept the focus on the State’s guilt in the Gujarat pogroms. In 2012, 32 people, including a former state minister, of involvement in the violence. Teesta Setalvad responded, “For the first time, this judgment actually goes beyond neighborhood perpetrators and goes up to the political conspiracy. The fact that convictions have gone that high means the conspiracy charge has been accepted and the political influencing of the mobs has been accepted by the judge. This is a huge victory for justice.”

In April 2015, the Modi national government placed the Ford Foundation on a national security watch list, because of its funding the Sabrang Trust. The State accused Teesta Setalvad of “disturbing the communal harmony here and carrying out anti-national propaganda against India in foreign countries.”

On July 15, the police raided Teesta Setalvad’s home and offices. Many view this shameful hounding as a concerted campaign of intimidation and suppression. Teesta Setalvad’s response to the most recent assaults shows the power of the pursuit of justice: “Despite being agnostic, we do sometimes believe in miracles. Through the work we have committed our lives to … I have believed in the purity of motive and the sincerity of faith …The struggle for justice for the victims of the Gujarat riots has validated this belief. It has been awe-inspiring to watch the raw courage of witness survivors – firm in the belief that truth is on their side – testifying before the courts. It is their audacity that has led to the life imprisonment of 120 people. The fact that they stood with us, and we with them, has made them unflinchingly loyal to us. Even in these hours when state vendetta has been unleashed upon us, they are praying for us.”

Teesta Setalvad has steadfastly refused to look the other way. She argues for the miracle of solidarity and the necessity for justice. Do not let the world look the other way. Stand with Teesta Setalvad, firm in the belief in the audacity and miracle of women’s justice.

(Photo Credit: twocircles.net) (Image Credit: The Indian Express)

…And Ishrat Jahan is dead

President Barack Obama went to India last week. He declared that India is “not simply an emerging power but now it is a world power.” President Obama suggested that India’s emergence as a world power now gave it the authority to “promote peace, stability, prosperity.”  He embraced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He met with leaders of the business community and spoke to the Parliament. He met with university students, he danced with primary schools students.

The President of the United States of America met with many people of the Republic of India. He talked of peace between nations, in particular Pakistan and India. He announced that the United States would support India’s permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council.

Security is on the minds of many in India, and across South Asia. Many want to redefine security. National security. Personal security. Community security. Many of those who seek an alternative to security through military means and, even more, through the militarization of domestic spaces are women. President Obama did not meet with those people. He did not meet with those women who counsel nonviolent alternatives to security based on arms and force. Instead he talked about the Security Council

President Obama did not meet with Medha Patkar, the driving and visionary force behind the Narmada Bachao Andalan movement, a movement of tribal and aboriginal people, of farmers and peasants, of women, and of supporters. Narmada Bachao Andalan is a nonviolent direct action mass and popular movement that this year celebrates, in song and struggle, twenty-five years of organizing for real security. This began as a struggle to stop a big dam being erected on the Narmada River, and has evolved into an alternative vision of statehood, nationhood, security. President Obama did not meet with Medha Patkar, and no one is surprised.

President Obama did not meet with Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for ten years now. In early November 2000, in the state of Manipur, insurgents attacked a battalion. The battalion retaliated, later, by mowing down ten innocents standing at a bus stop. Included among them was “a 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner.” A pregnant woman was also reported as being one of the dead.

The army knew it could act with impunity because it was covered by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA. AFSPA was imposed in Manipur in 1961. Much of the rest of the Northeast has been under its rule since 1972. According to government reports, more than 20,000 people. By the government’s own statistics, tens of thousands of people, have been disappeared, tortured, beaten, abused. In Manipur, this began in 1961. By 2000, it had gone for almost four decades.

A young 28 year old woman, Irom Sharmila, decided enough was more than enough. She entered into an indefinite fast, a hunger strike that would continue until the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is rescinded, the soldiers withdrawn, the people restored. November 4 marked the tenth year of Sharmila’s fast. President Obama did not meet with Irom Sharmila, and again no one is surprised.

President Obama did not meet with these women of peace, considered by many to be the true Gandhians. Nor did he meet with Ishrat Jahan.

In 2004 there was a `police encounter’ in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat. Police encounter is a delicate euphemism for extrajudicial killings. Extrajudicial killings is a discrete euphemism for police murder, assassination, torture, disappearance, terror.

In 2004 the police encountered Ishrat Jahan. She was nineteen years old, a college student. She and three others were gunned down. The police claimed they were part of a terrorist organization and were planning to kill the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Five years later, in 2009, a police investigation determined that Jahan and her three colleagues had absolutely no ties to any terrorist organization of any sort. It was further determined, by police, that assassinations had been planned and carried out by senior officials who wanted to impress the Chief Minister. In a word, they were seeking promotion. Through security.

Jahan’s family was relieved and demanded further inquiry. The Gujarat High Court appointed a Special Investigative Team to delve deeper. The State of Gujarat appealed to the Supreme Court to disband the SIT, saying the High Court had no power, had no standing, when another agency was already investigating. The Supreme Court decided against the State … and for due process, and perhaps the people. This has been described as “an embarrassment to Gujarat government.” The investigation will continue.

…And Ishrat Jahan is dead. As she lies with the tens and hundreds of thousands killed in the name of security, killed and tortured in the pursuit of prosperity, Ishrat Jahan haunts the peace of so-called world powers.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC.com/AFP)