Victims of crime are known to get so tired of legal processes that they drop out from fatigue. Often, they are bought over by the accused. This is likelier when the accused is a powerful person, with the ability to mobilise finances and wield political clout.
Zakia Jafri, widow of Ehsan Jafri, a former Congress MP who was burnt alive in Gulberg Society during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, was fighting a chief minister (Narendra Modi), and it was not until the Supreme Court appointed an SIT—taking the investigation of the very state she was fighting—that things started to move. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), of which Teesta Setalvad is the moving spirit, supported Zakia through this and supports her to this day. Support for Teesta is support for access to justice for victims of a pogrom.
It’s for the courts, of course, to decide whether a crime has been committed, but the least society can offer Zakia is the support she needs to carry the prosecution through to completion. There is no ‘clean chit’ yet. Appellate and constitutional justice is yet to be done. Teesta’s organisation, the CJP, supports victims of communal violence. They are human rights defenders, who in turn must be protected by law.
Access to justice can be denied in different ways. One is to intimidate those who support a seeker of justice. The case against Teesta smacks of a plan to deter her from assisting victims of the Gujarat 2002 riots. Thanks to CJP, 119 people—one of them a minister—have been convicted and given life terms for their part in the riots. This is a record of convictions for any communal riot in India.
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. Teesta is not running away from an investigation. She’s only asking: “Why arrest me?” And she’s asking for a fair investigation. What needs to be addressed here is the perception of bias in the trial process.
What I am saying is, the disproportionate nature of the attack on her, the timing and the attempt to arrest her and her husband Javed Anand smack of vendetta and bias, an impression which can only be corrected by the courts stepping in and addressing the issue of her demand for a transfer of the investigation out of Gujarat. The issue is not whether CJP has commited financial misconduct. The issue is how fair are our pre-trial processes and how impartial our justice delivery system.
In contrast to the vehemence of the Gujarat police to prosecute and arrest Teesta and Javed, one sees the failure of the CBI to appeal against the discharge of Amit Shah, the chief of the ruling BJP, in a case in which he is accused of three murders. One wonders if is this not a case of manipulation of the investigation machinery by the State?
Indira Jaising is a former additional solicitor-general; E-mail your columnist: letters [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com