The world’s so-called largest democracy has locked up another voice of dissent.
Teesta Setalvad is a towering human-rights activist who has been campaigning for justice for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat massacre.
At that time, thousands of Muslims were slaughtered across the Indian state after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, caught fire leaving more than 50 dead.
The current right-wing Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, was the chief minister of Gujarat back then. He blamed the incident on Islamic fundamentalists and Pakistan, following which an anti-Muslim pogroms broke out.
Though Modi was never charged for the incidents, the victims’ families and survivors continue to allege his complicity in the bloodshed orchestrated by his supporters.
Modi was denied a visa by the U.S. because of these accusations until he became prime minister in 2014.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) looking into the conspiracy behind the massacre cleared him of wrongdoing.
However, an undeterred Setalvad continued her struggle. She was instrumental behind a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the SIT. Shortly after the Supreme Court dismissed it, she was detained by Gujarat police.
The police are now accusing her of fabricating false evidence after the Supreme Court lashed out at her and others for keeping “the pot boiling”.
Setalvad is a journalist by profession and has been raising her voice against religious fanaticism of every shade and state violence for years through her magazine Communalism Combat and website Sabrang India.
She has authored a few books including Foot Soldier of the Constitution, a memoir on Gujarat violence.
She last visited Canada in 2018 on the invitation of Radical Desi. Not only was she was honoured with medal of courage, she was separately presented with honorary degree by the University of British Columbia in 2020 through an online event. Radical Desi helped in gathering letters of support for her.
I have known her from when she came here a long time back after the Gujarat massacre to attend an event organized by South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. I have been writing for Communalism Combat and Sabrang since then.
Setalvad has also given me an opportunity to write fiction and columns on related issues, such as the Sikh Genocide of 1984. She published my short fiction in a special edition on the 25th-anniversary of the Sikh massacre.
Innocent Sikhs were murdered all over India in the first week of November 1984 after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
Setalvad has therefore been consistent in her criticism of every government when it comes to persecuting any minority group.
Let Modi and his cohorts know that she is not alone in this battle. If "to keep the pot boiling is a crime", then we are all criminals and need to be charged. After all, we haven't forgotten Gujarat and won't ever.
If this is the price one has to pay for standing up for humanity so, be it.