Protesters call for release of anti-Modi activist

Published June 28, 2022
Mumbai: Demonstrators hold placards and shout slogans during a protest over the arrest of rights activist Teesta Setalvad on Monday.—AFP
Mumbai: Demonstrators hold placards and shout slogans during a protest over the arrest of rights activist Teesta Setalvad on Monday.—AFP

NEW DELHI: Protests were held in several Indian cities on Monday over the arrest of a rights activist who attempted to have Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared complicit in deadly sectarian riots 20 years ago.

One of India’s worst outbreaks of religious violence saw at least 1,000 people — mostly Muslims — hacked, shot and burned to death in Gujarat when Modi was premier of the western state in 2002.

Activist Teesta Setalvad was detained on Saturday, a day after India’s top court rejected a lawsuit filed by her and her NGO challenging a ruling that cleared Modi over the bloodshed.

Hindu nationalist Modi, who ran Gujarat from 2001 until becoming Indian prime minister in 2014, was briefly subject to a travel ban by the United States over the violence.

The unrest began after 59 Hindus died in a fire on a train returning from one of Hinduism’s most sacred sites. Thirty-one Muslims were convicted of criminal conspiracy and murder over the incident.

Setalvad was a co-petitioner in the appeal to the Supreme Court filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of a former lawmaker, Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the riots.

“I am not a criminal,” Setalvad shouted to waiting journalists on Saturday after anti-terrorist police detained her for alleged criminal conspiracy, forgery and placing false evidence in court.

The Mumbai Press Club expressed “shock and dismay” at the arrest, calling for an end to the “politics of vengeance”.

“Setalvad and others, who lent their voice to the victims of communal violence in 2002 and after, have now been made scapegoats in a chilling process of vendetta unleashed by the executive and judiciary,” the organisation said.

Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said she was “deeply concerned”.

“Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime. I call for her release and an end to persecution by #Indian state,” Lawlor tweeted.

“It’s not just politically motivated, it’s beyond that. It is a fascist mindset,” said Balan, 60, one of several dozen lawyers and activists protesting in Bangalore on Monday. He declined to give his last name.

“Whoever is working for the people, who is working for the downtrodden communities, (the government) treats this as a crime,” Balan added.

A larger protest involving about 150 people took place in Mumbai and a smaller one in New Delhi.Setalvad, a leading rights activist, was detained from her residence in Mumbai on Saturday by police from Gujarat, taken to the neighbouring state, placed under formal arrest and sent to police custody until July 2.

“Just because activists like her are fighting in the court of law, doesn’t mean they should be put behind bars,” Nooruddin Naik, a protester, said.

Protesters carrying placards and posters of Setalvad shouted slogans against Modi and his party, the BJP. Meanwhile “Teesta” was a top trending topic on Twitter on Monday.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Beyond the pale
Updated 09 Aug, 2022

Beyond the pale

When such ugliness is unleashed, everyone at some point suffers the fallout.
Burying Gaza
09 Aug, 2022

Burying Gaza

IT is a sad commentary on the politics of the Middle East that even its most tragic human stories get defaced and...
Celebrate the athlete
09 Aug, 2022

Celebrate the athlete

TALK about delivering on your promise: javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem did that in the grandest style at the...
An unseemly dispute
08 Aug, 2022

An unseemly dispute

THERE is clarity, but perhaps not of the kind that Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial hoped to achieve when...
Unfair on taxpayers
Updated 08 Aug, 2022

Unfair on taxpayers

Unfair move has drawn valid criticism as it coincides with drastic increase in income tax on salaried people and corporates.
Polio nightmare
08 Aug, 2022

Polio nightmare

AS if the resurgence of polio in southern KP were not enough, officials and international monitoring bodies must now...