‘Gujarat riots did not happen all of a sudden’

Activist Teesta Setalvad opens up about her fight for riot victims and taking on the RSS ideology

March 07, 2017 01:07 am | Updated 01:07 am IST - New Delhi

NEW DELHI, 06/03/2017: Teesta Setalvad with her book , New Delhi on Tuesday . Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma.

NEW DELHI, 06/03/2017: Teesta Setalvad with her book , New Delhi on Tuesday . Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma.

Days after Oxford Bookstore in central Delhi’s Connaught Place cancelled human rights activist Teesta Setalvad’s discussion on her memoir, ‘The Foot Soldier of the Constitution’, the programme was conducted at the Press Club of India on Monday.

“I don’t want to talk much about the cancellation of the venue. Maybe there was some pressure,” said Ms. Setalvad.

The discussion started with the three major communal riots that she has elaborated in her book —1984 Bhiwadi riots, 1992 Ayodhya riots, and 2002 Gujarat riots — her continuing fight for the victims, and the consequences of going head-to-head with the RSS ideology.

“Through the book I have gone back to explain the history of Gujarat because the 2002 riots did not happen all of a sudden. Circumstances were building up towards such violence for a long time,” she said in conversation with Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of The Caravan — the organisers of the discussion.

Talking of subversion

The burning of the Sabarmati Express in February 2002 and the retaliatory violence across Gujarat occupies the centre space in Ms. Setalvad’s memoir. In the discussion, she has accused the Gujarat state machinery of the time for inaction and inciting violence.

“Till the third day of violence the army was not deployed. The State has done everything in its power to derail the judicial process. The levels of subversion have been scary. How far can a victim, survivor or a civil rights group go to get justice under such circumstances? However, hope has kept us going,” she said in the discussion.

‘Process of silencing’

Citing the recent incidents of violence in Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ms. Setalvad said that the process of silencing by the administration should stop. “Unless there is a representation of people such as Najeeb Ahmed (the missing student from JNU) and Rohith Vemula (student of the University of Hyderabad, who committed suicide) becomes part of mass politics, we will not be able to boast a healthy democracy,” she said.

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