I am a cheerleader at heart (definitely not physically). An objective observer is supposed to look at an issue dispassionately—and that’s something I sometimes have a hard time doing. Like it or not, I do implicitly take sides on any issue and the Gujrat riots of 2002 is something you cannot be neutral about . The problem is that I do not know, even after 2 years, which side should I be rooting for ?
There are the obvious villians—people in whom I see no redeeming qualities. Narendra Modi—who as the CM of Gujarat oversaw and passively abetted the massacre of hundreds of Muslims. Praveen Togadia , Ashok Singhal and their gang—rabble rousing , vitriol sprouting demagogues. I knew I wasnt on their side….there were some points I agreed with them on but in the final analysis I would never be caught dead in their camp.
I thought I knew whose side I was on–Zaheera’s. A lone victim raising her voice against the perpetrators while all around her, others had been intimidated into silence. Even when she recanted her evidence in front of the Gujrat High Court (which led to charges being dropped against her tormentors) I still sympathized with her—it was obvious there were limits to her courage. Then things changed. The Supreme Court, in one of the biggest and most courageous judicial decisions in independent India, overturned the High Court judgement and shifted the case to Mumbai observing that the environment in Modi’s Gujrat would never give Zaheera justice.
Teesta Setalvad, co-editor of Communalism Combat then took Zaheera under her wings and then she again turned hostile this time accusing Teesta Setalvad of forcibly co-ercing her into falsely accusing people in addition to keeping her prisoner. Subsequent investigations showed that Zaheera left Mumbai three times unescorted by Teesta or her associates and so there was no question of her being kept forcibly confined. And now everyone’s favorite hidden-cam specialists, the folks at Tehelka.com have come out with a bombshell—–Zaheera has taken 17 lacs from the BJP to accuse Teesta Setalvad ! The innocent victim actually started bargaining at 25 lacs and settled for 17—not a bad bargain. If Zaheera was really that afraid of the Hindu fundamentalists (as we initially thought she was ) I am sure she would not be bargaining—if Dawood Ibrahim calls me on my cell and asks me to sell my car to him for $100 (which I would be glad to do considering the state of my car) I really wont say “Hmmm how about $400” !
So is the hero of the story Teesta Setalvad, the fearless campaigner who has championed the cause of an ingrate victim ? Alas that is not to be also—Ms Setalvad belongs to a highly blighted, anti-Hindu, India-bashing organization (sabrang.com) whose credits include having a map of India with Kashmir “not there” and running a magazine “Communalism Combat” which has consistently taken a sensationalist, biased stance against Hindu nationalist parties. Let’s look at some instances:
Her comments about the original Godhra incident:
Teesta Setalvad, head of Communalism Combat, a group that opposes religious extremism in India, said that ‘while I condemn today’s gruesome attack, you cannot pick up an incident in isolation. Let us not forget the provocation. These people were not going for a benign assembly. They were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilisation to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India.’ [Washington Post]
Doesnt this sound exactly like the justification of Modi and Togadia whose main argument was that “Muslims deserved it” and who justify violence with the theory of “prior provocation”! What’s the difference between that and the above statement which drives home the point that Kar Sevaks deserved to die !
Tavleen Singh, in an article on Indian Express, launched into Sabrang which prompted an equally robust retort from Ms Setalvad. In response to the allegation that she always sees one half of the problem, Ms Setalvad points out that her magazine “Communalism Combat” has carried articles about atrocities on Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits) in Kashmir and elsewhere in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as the persecution of Sikhs in 1984 . To strengthen her argument she furnishes the titles of articles in her magazine that relate to these issues.
But one look at her archives is enough to convince one of the speciousness of her arguments. For every one article on atrocities on Hindus, there are 20 others on atrocities on minorities in India. Let’s look at some examples of her unbiased reporting:
“One year later, the Genocide in Gujarat continues through social and economic boycott of Muslims in atleast 10 of the 24 districts of the State and a politically vindictive state headed by Chief Minister Narendra Modi seeks to subvert all criminal investigations into the incidents of violence last year.”
Genocide??? Hello….social and economic boycott used to be known as Gandhian struggle—when did it come to be known as genocide ? Can any Indian bleeding heart liberal look me in the eye and tell me that one year later there is genocide going on in Gujrat where the word genocide is used in the same meaning as it is used to refer to the holocaust and the Khmer Rouge atrocities ? Another”headline” from archived articles: “India– Where Mass Murderers Go Unpunished”: ummm Jaikishen the Ripper must be very happy !
Secular magazine —let’s look at another extract from an archived issue :
Why don’t Muslims and Christians unite?
The coming together of the countryâ€™s largest religious minorities â€“ both targets of Hindutva â€“ is in their own and the nationâ€™s interest, says a Christian priest.
…….. From the scriptural and practical angles, there are more compelling reasons for these two religious communities (Islam and Christianity) to come together than to remain separate. For one thing, unity is of the essence for these two faiths. That is what supposedly distinguishes them from other religions â€” Hinduism, for example. As a matter of fact, this has been the main point of resentment against them.
Over here, “Communalism Combat” makes an impassioned appeal for Muslims and Christians to join hands against Hindus whom they are “distinguished from ” with the underlying assumption being there is no “unity” inside the Hindu faith— does this seem to you to be a very objective, non-judgemental article with no religious bias?
Now lets look at the articles Ms Teesta Setalvad refers to as examples of her balanced handling of issues. “Talibanization of Kashmir”—just the name conjures up a piece on the growing Islamic fundmentalism in the state fostered by ISI-Saudi money and foreign-trained Jihadis. Wrong ! The article opens with this:
“Post-Kargil, imported mujahideen are pedalling a Talibanised Islam in the Valley. And succeeding in good measure, thanks to the unholy nexus between the BJP-led government at the Centre and an unscrupulous National Conference in the state”
The nearly 8,000 Kashmiri Pandits still living in the Valley and determined to stay put there feel bitter that the rest of India â€” the J&K and the central government, fellow Pandits who have migrated in large numbers, the sangh parivar and the Shiv Sena which pretends to speak for them and Indians in general â€” are insensitive to their predicament”
Yes thats it ! The BJP and the National Conference are to blame for the Talibanization of Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits are actually angry at the BJP and Shiv Sena rather than the kind hearted people who drove them away from their homeland! Something I had suspected all along. Elsewhere:
“This weakness of the Kashmiri movement that is fast-losing its Kashmiri identity â€” and, for this a variety of factors are responsible â€” is more than compensated on the other side. RSS and even more extreme brands of Hindu nationalism are gaining currency among Hindus in Jammu, as elsewhere in the country.”
So the way things stand: Kashmiri “terrorism” is a “movement” and “social and economic boycott” is “genocide”—their own words condemn their facade of impartiality.
One of the things Sabrang has been less than transparent about has been the source of their funds. And they have never denied nor confirmed that they are funded by Saudi money (yes the same people who fund extremist madrasas in India) and by Christian evangelists. If you go to sabrang.com (today is Dec 22) you would see a link for “Our Sponsors”. Click on it and you get a 404 error—need I say more !
I could go on forever highlighting the doublespeak of Ms Teesta Setalvad and her cronies. But the point I want to make is that the “victims” in the Best Bakery Case are in many ways even more dangerous than the perpetrators. Praveen Togadia and their ilk are easily-identifiable madmen whom you either follow blindly or you dont–they do not claim an intellectual basis for their arguments. But the victim and the honest , secular crusader are different kettles of fish altogether—they easily win your support because “they are in the right”. Only in this case the victim is a blackmailing, scheming turncoat and the crusader has a hidden agenda. Whom do you trust ? Whose side are you on ? Who is the victim ?
There is no truth anymore—only compromises.