Teesta Setalvad Case: Triumph of ‘Asatyameva Jayate’

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The ruling was pronounced on a simple case of an appeal against an order of the Gujarat High Court which rejected the revision petition filed by Zakia Jafri widow of late Ahsan Jafri.  It could have gone unnoticed if the court had just rejected the appeal. But the Supreme Court chose to don the mantle of infinite justice, something towards which every human looks for mercy.  

Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are many instances where falsehood has triumphed. The latest case of “Asatyameva Jayate“ is Supreme Court’s ruling on Teesta Setalvad, R B Sreekumar, and Sanjiv Bhatt.


The ruling was pronounced on a simple case of an appeal against an order of the Gujarat High Court which rejected the revision petition filed by Zakia Jafri widow of late Ahsan Jafri.  It could have gone unnoticed if the court had just rejected the appeal. But the Supreme Court chose to don the mantle of infinite justice, something towards which every human looks for mercy.

Creating sensation

In the judgment, the apex court made observations like: “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat (R B Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt) along with others (Teesta Setalvad) intention was to create a sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge.”  


It adds: “They had the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious stratagem adopted to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design. They conspired to fabricate evidence, tutor witnesses, and abuse the process of law. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with the law.”


Commenting on the judgment, senior SC lawyer Kamini Jaiswal said, what the Supreme Court pronounced is beyond CrPC (code of criminal procedure) and beyond its jurisdiction. It’s “completely illegal, unconstitutional and violates every tenet of law and fundamental rights”.


He goes on to say, “SC observations were just “sermons” which have resulted in the arrest of Teesta Setalvad, besides IPS officers R B Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt (already in jail in a concocted case) who were not a party in this petition. The apex court never issued them notices, yet passed such a judgment in “violation of their fundamental right” and also “demonised” a widow (Zakia).”

NHRC reports

Jaiswal said the Supreme Court bench ignored NHRC reports and the report of amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran, who had stated that an investigation was required to probe the role of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi.


Since the observations have come from the apex court, Setalvad, Sreekumar, and Bhatt may not get any relief easily, and hence, for them, it could be a long haul,  Kamini Jaiswal observed.


A Gujarat High Court lawyer, Anand Yagnik, also criticised the judgment saying “…Supreme Court has started a new chapter of castigating those who are espousing the cause for justice and those who are fighting for human rights now are made accused in spite of the fact that Sanjiv Bhatt and Sreekumar were not there before the court.”


The judgment casts its net very wide. It makes a case that covered the time period of the offense that ranged from January 1, 2002 to June 25, 2022. In effect, every effort for justice for the victims of 2002, be it petitions filed in the high court, the Supreme Court, or the magistrates’ court is criminalised.


The process, which should have made the state accountable for establishing the guilt of those accused of serious crimes, is tarred with a criminal brush by criminalising the quest for justice by the victims of the Gujarat riots. It also seeks to deter citizens from holding the state accountable for enabling violence in the future, and in effect conveys that the state can do no wrong.


If any hope for reopening the 2002 post-Godhra riots was left, it was dashed by the Supreme Court which rubbished the appeal and threw it out of the window. It is only after that that the Gujarat Police launched a crackdown on the three crusaders;  Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, and Sanjiv Bhatt.  

The basic question before the court was whether Narendra Modi, as the then Chief Minister, was there at a meeting of top officials on the day the Sabarmati Express was torched killing 59 kar sevaks. Whether Modi issued a directive to let Hindus have a free hand to vent their anger against Muslims in the state?  

SIT

IPS Sanjeev Bhatt alleged that Modi did. He claimed that the then Gujarat CM was present at the meeting. However, an SIT tasked by the Supreme Court to probe the case, found forensic evidence to establish that Modi was elsewhere at the time of the meeting. The SIT surmised that Bhatt’s claim was hyperventilated by others to build a false case against Modi.


RB Sreekumar a 1971 batch IPS officer, who was ADGP in charge of the armed unit in Gujarat during the Godhra incident, was one of the very few officials who testified against the Gujarat CM before the Nanavati Commission that looked into the 2002 Gujarat riots.


Human rights activist and lawyer Teesta Setalvad pleaded the case of Zakia Jafri, widow of late Ahsan Jafri.  The Gujarat High Court upheld the SIT’s conclusion that there was no larger conspiracy behind the Gulbarg Society riots. The plaintiff went to the Supreme Court for an appeal against the High Court’s judgment, and lawyer Setalvad pleaded Zakia Jafri’s case.  

 
The Supreme Court’s judgment is a classic example of Satyameva Jayate” getting defeated and “Asatyameva Jayate or falshood triumphing. It is only after getting the Supreme Court’s judgment that the BJP government exercised the state power to go after the crusaders of justice, Setalvad, Sreekumar, and Sanjiv Bhatt. If the apex court had simply rejected the appeal, it would have closed a dark chapter of Indian history, and possibly that may have helped heal the wounds of the Gujarat riots.


However, by going after those who thought to go by the call of their ‘conscience’, the entire discourse of “Satyameva Jayate” has been turned on its head. “Asatyameva Jayate” can also triumph is the conclusion that the dim-witted has drawn from Teesta Setalvad case.

________________

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@waquarahmed123gmail-com

Teesta Setalvad

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