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An Unconscionable Act

An Unconscionable Act

Author: Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 15, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/an-unconscionable-act/447301/0

The news reports of the Supreme Court appointed SIT's charges against a leading activist, Teesta Setalvad are truly disturbing. She is charged with adding morbidity to the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat by "cooking up macabre tales of killings". One has to see the full SIT report to come to terms with how grievous the charges are. On the face of it the SIT is credible. But by all news accounts Teesta Setalvad has done the cause of justice irreparable harm. And her actions, as described, will undermine the capability of civil society to have any imprimatur of impartiality in investigating riot cases.

If true, she has not only done deep disservice to the victims of the Gujarat riots; she has also undermined the credibility of so-called secular interlocutors. It confirms the suspicion many have, that often those speaking in the name of secularism do not subscribe to the very values they claim to be fighting for: truth, justice, impartiality and the rule of law. Their secularism is in the service of beating down opponents rather than discovering the truth. "Tutoring witnesses", concocting horror stories in a politically charged situation is a serious crime; of a piece with what the supposedly "bad" guys do. After all, their politics depends upon falsely whipped-up paranoia, tampering with the system of justice, engaging in a pornography of violence and having scant regard for the truth. The fact that this is done in the name of victims, for a supposedly just cause, does not excuse it. It makes it worse.

This story should have been a big front page story. It deserves much more coverage and discussion. Of course, this is not the first time Teesta Setalvad's role has come under the scanner. Her role in the Zahira Sheikh case was a matter of some concern, and there has been a widespread perception in legal struggles that her advocacy sometimes makes the cause of justice more, not less difficult. One cannot speculate about the circumstances under which she engaged in this self undermining rhetorical overkill. On the face of it, it was all so needless. The events in Gujarat were horrific enough -- there was no need to spoil the case with appalling falsehoods.

The good news is that in the case of Gujarat, at least some wheels of justice are turning. But the SIT's findings against Teesta Setalvad are a salutary reminder, that the rule of law and the cause of truth should not be allowed to be subordinated to any ideology: communal or secular.


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