Teesta Setalvad is an Indian human rights activist and a renowned journalist. She is well-known for fighting for justice for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Teesta Setalvad was born on Friday, 9 February 1962 (age 60 years; as of 2022) in Mumbai. After completing her schooling, Teesta Setalvad began pursuing her graduation in Law, however; she left law after completing her second year and went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in Philosophy (Honours) in 1983.
Teesta Setalvad belongs to a family of renowned lawyers.
Parents & Siblings
Her grandfather, M. C. Setalvad, was the first Attorney General of India (AGI) from 1950 to 1963.
M. C. Setalvad, grandfather of Teesta Setalvad
Her father, Atul Setalvad, was a Mumbai-based lawyer. Her mother’s name is Sita Setalvad. Her sister’s name is Amili Atul Setalvad. She is a businesswoman.
Husband & Children
Her husband, Javed Anand, is an Indian journalist and a civil rights activist.
Teesta Setalvad with her husband Javed Anand
She has two children. Her son’s name is Jibran and her daughter’s name is Tamara.
Teesta Setalvad follows Hinduism.
Teesta Setalvad started her career as a Journalist in 1983, soon after completing her graduation. She was employed as a columnist by The Daily (India), The Indian Express and the Business Magazine for the Mumbai edition of the newspapers and magazines. Her first major reporting was on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, for which she covered the event in great detail. During the 1993 Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai, Teesta Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, decided to quit their jobs as mainstream journalists and start their monthly reporting magazine titled Communalism Combat. While giving an interview, Javed Anand told the media,
The opportunity to report on the riots is very limited in the mainstream media. We were allowed to cover only a few aspects of the riots, whereas a larger part of the information on the riots was mostly censored. Therefore, me and my wife, we both decided to quit our jobs and start our own reporting magazine.”
In 2012, after starting an online new media website, Sabrang, Teesta and Javed decided to quit publishing Communalism Combat.
On 1 April 2002, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand started a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) named Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). The couple started their NGO in collaboration with famous personalities from different fields such as Father Cedric Prakash (a catholic priest), Anil Dharker (a journalist), Alyque Padamsee, Javed Akhtar, Vijay Tendulkar, and Rahul Bose. The organisation was established in response to the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The NGO filed several litigations against the accused individuals, including the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi. On 10 June 2002, Teesta Setalvad stood before the committee of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and testified against the alleged role of the then Chief Minister of Gujarat in the 2002 Gujarat Riots. In 2013, responding to the PIL filed by the NGO, the Supreme Court decided to conduct a fresh series of investigations on those accused of playing a part in the Gujarat riots. The NGO registered another victory when the Supreme Court ruled in the favour of the NGO to move the “Best Bakery Case” to the Bombay High Court. Although, by the beginning of 2014, all the petitions filed by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) were dismissed by all the courts of law including the Supreme Court. Through her NGO, Teesta staunchly advocates for Dalits, Muslims and oppressed women. Teesta Setalvad is also a founder of the Women in the Media Committee where the women working in different media houses put forward the difficulties experienced by them while working. as a General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Teesta Setalvad raised her voice against the nuclear arming of both India and Pakistan.
Filing a joint petition with Zakia Jafri
In 2002, after the Gujarat riots, Zakia Jafri and the CJP jointly filed a petition in the Supreme Court in which they accused the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi of asking the Gujarat police not to take any sort of action on the rioters, allowing them to “vent their anger out.” The petition listed a series of 21 accusations levied against Narendra Modi such as allowing the parading of dead bodies of the Hindus to instigate the masses, allowing the cabinet ministers to control the Gujarat police’s control room, appointing the VHP members as public prosecutors, and many more. On 27 April 2009, the Supreme Court of India established a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the chairmanship of R. K. Raghavan. The SIT was tasked with investigating a total of nine incidents during the Gujarat riots and submitting its report to the Supreme Court. The report was submitted to the Supreme Court by the SIT on 14 May 2010. The Supreme Court, reacting to a petition filed by CJP, ordered the SIT to conduct another extensive investigation into the matter. The final report was submitted to the Supreme Court by the SIT on 5 May 2011. The Supreme Court then appointed Raju Ramachandran as its amicus curiae (advisor to the court) who observed that the report filed by the SIT had a lot of discrepancies in it. Raju Ramachandran allegedly stated that Sanjiv Bhatt, who was an IPS officer in Gujarat in 2002, was present at the CM Modi’s meeting, where he was instructed not to do anything about the riots to teach the Muslims a lesson. The SIT did not agree with the findings of the amicus curiae and filed a closure report on 8 February 2012. On 10 April 2012, upon finding no conclusive evidence against Narendra Modi and other accused, the Supreme Court acquitted the accused. On 15 April 2013, Zakia Jafri and CJP filed a protest petition against the decision of the Supreme Court and demanded that the pieces of evidence submitted by the SIT to the Supreme Court, must be handed over to the petitioners for examination. Protesting against the petition, the SIT in its official statement stated,
Teesta Setalvad and others have falsified the complaint targeting the chief minister who had never said that go and kill people. Their lawyer further submitted that the so-called incident of Chief Minister (Narendra Modi) giving instructions (in the meeting) to high-level police officers not to take action against the rioters is a sole creation of Teesta Setalvad. There is no evidence of the same and that Setalvad was not present during the incident.”
Manipulation of witnesses
Teesta Setalvad has often been accused of tampering with the pieces of evidence and presenting false and misleading evidence in a court of law. In 2004, Teesta Setalvad was accused of forcing a Gujarat riots victim named Zaheera Sheikh, who was a witness to the burning down of the Best Bakery in Gujarat, to give certain statements in the court so that the case could be transferred outside the state of Gujarat. The Supreme Court observed that the statements given by Zaheera Sheikh were inconsistent and often changed, thus busting the lie of the victim. In 2005, for falsely presenting the facts, the Supreme Court handed over a one-year sentence to Zaheera. Giving an official statement, the Supreme Court stated,
A self-condemned liar falling to inducements by certain persons to give inconsistent statements during the trial of the case. The court should not be a tape recording machine but play a participatory role. We find that people have started feeling that criminal trials are like cobweb where small flies are getting caught and big people are dashing through.”
Exaggerating the claims
Teesta Setalvad was also accused of coming up with exaggerated false stories about the Gujarat riots. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) stated that Teesta came up with a botched story of a pregnant Muslim woman, Kausar Bano, who was gang-raped by a group of men, who after assaulting her forcefully removed her uterus with the help of a sharp-edged weapon. The investigations conducted by the SIT found that the claims were severely exaggerated by Teesta Setalvad. The SIT noted that the Kausar Bano was indeed a pregnant woman who was killed in the riots but not by being gang-raped and having her uterus gouged out.
In 2013, Teesta Setalvad was accused of falsely collecting money from the Gulbarg Society, a society which was attacked primarily during the Gujarat riots in 2002, in the name of helping the victims of the riots. A letter, accusing Teesta of using the funds for her gains, was written by 12 residents of the society to the Gujarat police. It was also alleged that the money was taken by CJP for the construction of a museum, dedicated to the victims of the riots. On 13 March 2013, the residents of the Gulbarg Society, including the Secretary of the society, wrote to the Joint Commissioner of the Crime Branch clarifying that the letter with the society’s letterhead on it was falsely written and dispatched to the police by some miscreants. The NGO, CJP, also clarified that the organisation has not collected any amount of money from the residents of the Gulbarg Society. It further stated that the money collected for the construction of a museum was raised with the help of other national and international sources, and the NGO had amassed a total of Rs 4,60,285. It further stated that the NGO could not construct the museum for the people because of the fluctuating price of the land upon which the museum is to be made.
Illegally accepting donations from abroad
According to the constitution of India, an NGO can only accept donations from a foreign company or an organisation only if the NGO is registered with the Government of India under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). From 2004 to 2014, before being enlisted in the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, Teesta Setalvad’s organisations named CJP and Sabrang Communications received a hefty amount of $ 290,000 from the Ford Foundation, an organisation which was put under the Gujarat government’s watch list for interfering in the internal matters of the state and India. As a result of which the Government of India cancelled the license of Teesta Setalvad’s NGO in 2016.
Arrested by the Gujarat Police
In June 2022, after the Supreme Court rejected a joint plea of Zakia Jafri and Teesta Setalvad, Teesta Setalvad was arrested by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the Gujarat Police on the charges of falsely procuring “fake and misleading” documents to frame the then Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government. The Gujarat Police levied the charges on Teesta under Sections 468, 471 (forgery), 194 (giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence), 211 (institute criminal proceedings to cause injury), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save a person from punishment or property from forfeiture), and 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. While giving an official statement, the Supreme Court stated,
Teesta has been vindictively persecuting this lie for her ulterior design by exploiting the emotions and sentiments of Zakia. The proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years to keep the pot boiling, for ulterior design. However, the court has observed that it does not wish to get into the locus of Teesta Setalvad (secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace, an organisation allegedly formed to advocate for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots) in the litigation and has kept it to be decided in an appropriate case.”
Teesta Setalvad being taken to a police station in Mumbai
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1993, Teesta Setalvad was awarded the Journalism for Human Rights Award by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
- In 1993, she was awarded the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediaperson by The Media Foundation.
- In 1999, Teesta along with her husband, Javed, was presented Hakim Khan Sur Award by Maharana Mewar Foundation.
- In 2000, she was awarded Human Rights Award by the Dalit Liberation Education Trust.
- In 2001, Teesta was awarded Pax Christi International Peace Award given to her by the Evangelical group.
- In 2002, Teesta Setalvad was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award by the Indian National Congress.
- In 2003, she was given the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award for social activism.
- In 2004, she was given the Defender of Democracy Award by Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA).
- In 2004, Teesta was awarded M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award by the Vigil India Movement.
- In 2006, she was awarded Nani A Palkhivala Award which was given to her by Tata Group.
- In 2007, she was awarded the Matoshree Bhimabai Ambedkar Award given to her by the Sambodhi Pratishthan of Satara.
- In 2007, Teesta Setalvad was awarded Padma Shri for Public Affairs by the Government of India.
- In 2009, she was awarded FIMA Excellence Award by the Federation of Indian Muslim Associations in Kuwait.
- In 2020, Teesta Setalvad was honoured with an Honourary Doctorate by the British Columbian University.
- After her arrest in 2022, Home Minister Amit Shah blamed Teesta Setalvad and her NGO for conspiring against PM Narendra Modi.
- Teesta Setalvad is a staunch advocate of friendly India-Pakistan relations. She is also a member of the inner circle of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy.