Friday, April 1, 2016

Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand - fighting communalism in India

Fighting hatred, racism, intolerance, communalism and bigotry is never easy, esp. when a state authority uses such an evil as part of a rallying tactics or strategy to polarize a major segment of a populace to carry out its dirty war against a targeted group or groups. There are quite a few governments in our time that have perfected this evil art of elimination.
For more than half a century, the successive military governments of Burma (now Myanmar) have practiced genocidal campaigns against the Muslims, esp. the Rohingyas that mostly live in the Arakan (Rakhine) state, as part of a national project to purify the country in a Buddhist way in which many Buddhists from ordinary civilians to racist Buddhist politicians to bigoted monks to security forces participated. But Myanmar has been under military rule for most of its life, until the transfer of power lately to Suu Kyi's NLD.
What is the excuse for India?
With  nearly 1.25 billion citizens, India is touted as the largest democracy in our time. It has a parliamentary form of democratic government since its independence from the British Raj in 1947. And it is functioning for the last 69 years without being interrupted by the powerful military! By any count, it is a long time to develop democratic institutions that would mold the national thinking! 
But facts are quite unnerving. The BJP, belonging to the Sangh Parivar, a Hindutvadi fascist force that has many political and social organizations under its wings, is currently ruling India with Narendra Modi as the prime minister. Hindutvadis are against democratic values of integration. They want India to be ruled for the Hindus and by the Hindus, and of course, India of the Hindus. In their new India, non-Hindus simply would have no important role but to bow down to the altar of Hindutva - from singing bigoted songs like Bande Mataram that are problematic for a plethora of reasons to what they could eat or what they could do in their mother India.
It would be foolish to imagine that Hindutvadi forces emerged in recent years. It is actually older than modern India. Its founding fathers were all great admirers of Hitler and Mussolini. They hated M.K. Gandhi, and conspired to have him killed. They continue to be the forces of communalism in India that has witnessed the lynching of tens of thousands of Muslims and other minorities, including the much maligned Dalits. They are the forces that demolished the historic Babri mosque. They are the force behind harassment of social organizations and voices of reason that oppose the Hindutvadi narratives.
Take for instance the case of social activists Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand. The couple believes in fighting communalism by journalism that provides an alternate viewpoint to that expressed in the mainstream and right wing communalist newspapers and journals. They are against extremists of all types. In September 1998, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand published a paper on Saffron Army Targets People of the Cross that documented forced conversions of Christians to Hinduism with the assistance of state agents
Shortly after the Bombay Riots of 1992–93 that followed the demolition of Babri Mosque in December 1992, the couple left their jobs with mainstream newspapers and launched Communalism Combat, a magazine dedicated to fighting the divisive forces that had led to the riots. They started Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt Ltd in the hope of  generating revenue to sustain Communalism Combat, which they foresaw as not being viable on its own strength. Sabrang Communications has published various widely discussed reports. In 1998 Sabrang published Damning Verdict: Report of the Srikrishna Commission on the riots in Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993, and 12 March 1993 bomb blasts.
In the run-up to 1999 Lok Sabha elections, Communalism Combat came with an ad campaign featuring 18 fact sheets/backgrounders pitched against the Sangh Parivar. This ad was considered to be a sin in the dictionary of the Hindutvadis, and since then the couple has been harangued by them.
Following ongoing communal violence in Gujarat, in 2000 Sabrang published Saffron on the rampage: Gujarat's Muslims pay for the Lashkar's deeds. In 2002 Sabrang and South Asia Citizens Web published The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva, which investigated how funding raised by the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) in the USA was being distributed in India.
As a result of their crusade against Hindutvadi fascism, the couple is in trouble in India today. In January 2014 the Ahmedabad Crime Branch registered a First Information Report that alleged that Javed Anand, his wife Teesta Setalvad and others had embezzled Rs.15 million intended for construction of a memorial for riot victims. On 8 July 2015 the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a case against Setalvad and her organization for accepting foreign funding without first obtaining permission from the Home Ministry, a violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The filing also named Javed Anand and Gulam Mohammed Peshimam, both Sabrang directors. These are all false cases to break their resolve to weed out communalism from India.

In a signed article in Outlook magazine, published in March 2015, Indira Jaising wrote that Teesta's organization Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) did creditable work in obtaining convictions for 119 people (including a Minister) for participating in the Gujarat riots. Jaising goes on to say that :
The case against Teesta smacks of a plan to deter her from assisting victims of the Gujarat 2002 riots. The financial dealings of Teesta and CJP can be probed, but the disproportionality of the legal process, the timing, and the insistence of the prosecution on custodial interrogation, smack of vendetta.
The couple filed for bail and was eventually granted. In March of this year, the Supreme Court extended their bail.
However, this week on Thursday Teesta and three Kerala lawmakers were denied entry into Hyderabad Central University where they were set to address a meeting. Security personnel of the varsity did not allow A Sampath, M B Rajesh and P K Biju and Setalvad to enter the campus, which has witnessed strong protests and violence after Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile resumed duty in the aftermath of Rohith Vemula suicide.

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