National and international voices for justice for Teesta Setalvad, leading human rights defender, have continued to grow stronger since she was detained by the Indian authorities on June 25.
UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor stated soon after Teesta’s detention that she is deeply concerned by this. She said that Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Lawlor has called for her release and an end to persecution by Indian State.
Both as an activist and as a journalist Teesta has been struggling for human rights concerns for years and and has also worked tirelessly for issues relating to inter-faith harmony. Her detention is widely believed to be related to her consistent efforts to bring out several aspects of riots and attacks which were being allegedly suppressed by powerful authorities.
For similar efforts former Indian Police Officer and whistleblower R.B. Sreekumar was arrested on the same day. Several voices of protests have asked for justice for both Teesta and Sreekumar, as well for another IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt who was jailed earlier. In particular it is widely believed that those involved in bringing to light certain aspects of the riots which took place nearly 2 decades back in Gujarat are being targeted.
Soon after the arrests of Sreekumar and Teesta on January 25, protest demonstrations were hurriedly organized in several cities of India and messages of support for them poured in. As per reports published in various web-sites and newspapers, by the evening of June 27 protests had already been organized in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Varanasi, Trivandrum, Jaipur, Ranchi, Bhopal, Lucknow, Allahabad, Chandigarh, Chennai, Raipur and some other places.
Over 2000 persons have signed statements demanding justice for Teesta. These include Medha Patkar, India’s leading social activist and Convener of the National Alliance for People’s Movements, V. Suresh, General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and former Navy Chief Admiral Ramdas.
Leading organizations which have called for justice include Human Rights Watch, All India Lawyers’ Union, Amnesty India, Mumbai Press Club and Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ). The Mumbai Press Club has referred to the June 25 arrest/detention as a “chilling process of vendetta” and an example of the “politics of vengeance.” The DUJ has also issued a strong statement against this injustice.
While several political parties have opposed the arrest/detention, particularly noteworthy has been the strong stand taken by the Congress Party and the left parties. The Left Front Chairman Biman Bose as well as the CPM leader Brinda Karat have condemned the arrest and demanded justice. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has deplored the Government’s “habit of targeting opponents and infringing on civil liberties, of which the arrest of Teesta Setalvad in the latest example.” The protests in Delhi and elsewhere saw the coming together of senior members of the Congress and left parties and one hopes that this unity can be maintained further in demanding justice for other political prisoners as well.
In fact these protests have at times taken the form of demanding such wider justice for all political prisoners as there is growing concern over the deterioration of the health of several political persons, including scholars of repute. These concerns have a growing sense of urgency as several of these political prisoners and detainees suffer from serious and multiple health problems and even disabilities. Following the death last year of Fr. Stan Swamy (a Jesuit priest and reputed scholar who had devoted his life to serving the poorest sections of society) in very tragic circumstances, despite several warnings of his fast deteriorating health problems, such concerns have been growing steadily. A strong plea has also been made for providing significant relief to political prisoners before the celebration of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence on August 15 this year, drawing attention also to the fact that several of them have been arrested under very arbitrary and draconian anti-democratic laws which are completely against the spirit of India’s long and distinguished freedom movement.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Planet in Peril, Navjivan and Man over Machine—The Path to Peace.