Teesta Setalvad is an Indian human rights activist and a renowned journalist. She is well-known for fighting for justice for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Teesta Atul Setalvad was born on Friday, 9 February 1962 (age 60 years; as of 2022) in Bombay (now Mumbai). After completing her schooling in 1979, Teesta Setalvad began pursuing her graduation in Law, however; she left law after completing her second year and went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy (Honours). She completed her graduation in 1983 from Elphinstone College, University of Mumbai.
Teesta Setalvad belongs to a Parsi family of renowned lawyers.
Parents & Siblings
Her grandfather, M. C. Setalvad, was the first Attorney General of India (AGI), a post which he retained from 1950 to 1963.
Her father, Atul Setalvad, was a Mumbai-based lawyer. Her mother’s name is Sita Setalvad. Her sister’s name is Amili Atul Setalvad. She is a businesswoman.
Husband & Children
Her husband, Javed Anand, is an Indian journalist and a civil rights activist. They both got married in 1987.
Her son’s name is Jibran Anand.
Her daughter’s name is Tamara Anand. She is a photographer.
Teesta Setalvad was in a relationship with Javed Anand from 1983 to 1987.
She resides at Nirant, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu, Santacruz West, Mumbai, Maharashtra – 400049.
Teesta Setalvad follows Zoroastrianism.
Note: According to some sources, she is a Hindu who got married to a Muslim.
Teesta Setalvad, after completing her graduation, started working as a Journalist in 1983. She was employed as a columnist by The Daily (India), The Indian Express and the Business Magazine to work on the Mumbai edition of the newspapers and magazines. Her first major reporting was on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, she covered the event in great detail. During the 1992 Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai, Teesta Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, decided to quit their jobs as mainstream journalists and start their monthly reporting magazine titled Communalism Combat. While giving an interview, Teesta Setalvad told the media,
The opportunity to report on the riots is very limited in the mainstream media. We were allowed to cover only a few aspects of the riots, whereas a larger part of the information on the riots was mostly censored. Therefore, me and my wife, we both decided to quit our jobs and start our own reporting magazine.”
In the same year, Teesta Setalvad along with Javed co-founded another news media agency named Sabrang.
In 1998, the agency published its most famous article titled Damning Verdict: Report of the Srikrishna Commission. The article was based on the 1992-93 Mumbai riots and the 1993 Mumbai bomb blast cases. In 2000, Sabrang published another article titled Saffron on the rampage: Gujarat’s Muslims pay for the Lashkar’s deeds. The article was based on the communal riots that took place in Gujarat in the year 2000. In 2002, Sabrang and South Asia Citizens Web (SACW), jointly, published a report titled The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva. In the report, they discussed the money that was being siphoned off by an NGO named India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) to the Sangh Parivar.
On 1 April 2002, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand started a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) named Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). The couple started their NGO in collaboration with famous personalities from different fields such as Father Cedric Prakash (a catholic priest), Anil Dharker (a journalist), Alyque Padamsee, Javed Akhtar (music composer), Vijay Tendulkar, and Rahul Bose (actor).
The organisation was established in response to the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The main aim of the organisation is to fight for providing speedy justice to the victims of the 2002 riots. The NGO, in 2002, filed several litigations against the accused individuals, including the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi. On 10 June 2002, Teesta Setalvad stood before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and testified against the alleged role of the then Chief Minister of Gujarat in the 2002 Gujarat Riots. As a result of this, the United States banned the entry of Narendra Modi into the US. The ban was lifted by the US in 2014 after Narendra Modi became the 14th Prime Minister of India. In 2013, responding to the PIL filed by the NGO, the Supreme Court decided to conduct a fresh series of investigations on those accused of playing a part in the Gujarat riots. The NGO registered another victory in 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled in the favour of the NGO to move the “Best Bakery Case” to the Bombay High Court. Although, by the beginning of 2014, all the petitions filed by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) were dismissed by all the courts of law including the Supreme Court. Through her NGO, Teesta staunchly advocates for Dalits, Muslims and oppressed women. Teesta Setalvad is also the founder of the Women in the Media Committee where the women working in different media houses put forward the difficulties experienced by them while working. Teesta Setalvad, in the early 2000s, raised her voice against the nuclear arming of both India and Pakistan when she was a General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
Filing a joint petition with Zakia Jafri
In 2002, after the Gujarat riots, Zakia Jafri and the CJP jointly filed a petition in the Supreme Court in which they accused the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi of asking the Gujarat police not to take any sort of action against the rioters, allowing them to “vent their anger out.” The petition listed a series of 21 accusations levied against Narendra Modi such as allowing the parading of dead bodies of the Hindus to instigate the masses, allowing the cabinet ministers to control the Gujarat police’s control room, appointing the VHP members as public prosecutors, and many more. On 27 April 2009, the Supreme Court of India established a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the chairmanship of R. K. Raghavan. The SIT was tasked with investigating a total of nine incidents during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The report was submitted to the Supreme Court by the SIT on 14 May 2010. The Supreme Court, reacting to a petition filed by CJP after the SIT had submitted its report, ordered the SIT to conduct another extensive investigation into the matter. The final report was submitted to the Supreme Court by the SIT on 5 May 2011. The Supreme Court then appointed Raju Ramachandran as its amicus curiae (advisor to the court) who observed that the report filed by the SIT had a lot of discrepancies in it. Raju Ramachandran stated that Sanjiv Bhatt, who was an IPS officer in Gujarat in 2002, was present at CM Modi’s meeting, where he was instructed not to do anything about the riots, to “teach the Muslims a lesson.” The SIT did not agree with the findings of the amicus curiae and filed a closure report on 8 February 2012. On 10 April 2012, upon finding no conclusive evidence against Narendra Modi and other accused, the Supreme Court acquitted all of the accused. On 15 April 2013, Zakia Jafri and CJP filed a protest petition against the decision of the Supreme Court and demanded that the pieces of evidence submitted by the SIT to the Supreme Court, must be handed over to the petitioners for examination. Protesting against the petition, the SIT in its official statement stated,
Teesta Setalvad and others have falsified the complaint targeting the chief minister who had never said that go and kill people. Their lawyer further submitted that the so-called incident of Chief Minister (Narendra Modi) giving instructions (in the meeting) to high-level police officers not to take action against the rioters is a sole creation of Teesta Setalvad. There is no evidence of the same and that Setalvad was not present during the incident.”
An established author
Teesta Setalvad is a renowned author. She has published many books. In 2002, Teesta Setalvad wrote a chapter titled When Guardians Betray: The Role of the Police in the book, Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, which was based on the 2002 Gujarat riots.
In 2014, Teesta Setalvad published a book titled Gujarat: Behind the Mirage: a Collection of Informed Arguments. The book presented pieces of evidence related to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
In 2017, she published a book titled Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir.
In 2019, Teesta Setalvad published a book in Marathi. The book is titled Sanvidhanacha Jaglya Mazya Aathavani.
In 2020, she published Beyond Doubt – A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination. The book disclosed the events that lead to Mahatama Gandhi’s assassination and also the events that took place after his killing.
In 2021, she co-authored a book titled Delhi’s Agony.
Manipulation of witnesses
Teesta Setalvad has often been accused of tampering with the pieces of evidence and presenting false and misleading evidence in a court of law. In 2004, Teesta Setalvad was accused of forcing a Gujarat riots victim named Zaheera Sheikh, who was also a witness to the burning down of the Best Bakery in Gujarat, to give certain statements in the court so that the case could be transferred outside the state of Gujarat. The Supreme Court observed that the statements given by Zaheera Sheikh were inconsistent and often changed, thus busting the lie of the victim. In 2005, for falsely presenting the facts, the Supreme Court handed over a one-year prison sentence to Zaheera. Giving an official statement, the Supreme Court stated,
A self-condemned liar falling to inducements by certain persons to give inconsistent statements during the trial of the case. The court should not be a tape recording machine but play a participatory role. We find that people have started feeling that criminal trials are like cobweb where small flies are getting caught and big people are dashing through.”
Exaggerating the claims
Teesta Setalvad was also accused of coming up with exaggerated and false stories about the Gujarat riots. In 2009, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) stated that Teesta came up with a botched story of a pregnant Muslim woman, Kausar Bano, who was gang-raped by a group of men, who after assaulting her, forcefully removed her uterus with the help of a sharp-edged weapon. The investigations conducted by the SIT found that the claims were severely exaggerated by Teesta Setalvad. The SIT noted that Kausar Bano was indeed a pregnant woman who was killed in the riots but not by being gang-raped and having her uterus gouged out. In a statement given by the Supreme Court, it stated,
The protagonists of the quest for justice are sitting in a comfortable environment in their air-conditioned office may succeed in connecting failures of the state administration at different levels during such a horrendous situation, little knowing or even referring to the ground realities and the continual effort put in by the duty holders in controlling the spontaneous evolving situation unfolding aftermath mass violence across the state.”
In 2013, Teesta Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, were accused of falsely collecting money from the Gulbarg Society, a society which was attacked primarily during the Gujarat riots in 2002, in the name of helping the victims of the riots. A letter, accusing Teesta of using the funds for her gains, was written and duly signed by 12 residents of the society to the Gujarat police. It was also alleged that the money was taken by CJP for the construction of a museum, dedicated to the victims of the riots. On 13 March 2013, the residents of the Gulbarg Society, including the Secretary of the society, wrote to the Joint Commissioner of the Crime Branch clarifying that the letter with the society’s letterhead on it was falsely written and dispatched to the police by some miscreants. The NGO, CJP, also clarified that the organisation has not collected any amount of money from the residents of the Gulbarg Society. It further stated that the money collected for the construction of a museum was raised with the help of other national and international sources, and the NGO had amassed a total of Rs 4,60,285. It further stated that the NGO could not construct the museum for the people because of the fluctuating price of the land upon which the museum is to be made.
Illegally accepting donations from abroad
According to the constitution of India, an NGO can only accept donations from a foreign company or an organisation only if the NGO is registered with the Government of India under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). From 2004 to 2014, before being enlisted in the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, Teesta Setalvad’s organisations named CJP and Sabrang Communications received a hefty amount of $ 290,000 from the Ford Foundation, an organisation which was put under the Gujarat government’s watch list for interfering in the internal matters of the state and India. As a result of which the Government of India cancelled the license of Teesta Setalvad’s NGO in 2016. While issuing an official statement, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated,
Prima facie violations of various provisions of FCRA were noticed. An on-site inspection or a raid was conducted of books and accounts and records from 9-11 June 2015 at its Juhu Tara office. On 9 September FCRA registration was suspended and issued a show cause notice to Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Aanand. They were given a personal hearing on 11 April 2016. On 16 June, the registration was cancelled with the government with immediate effect.”
The Khoj Case
Khoj is an NGO which is run by Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. The NGO runs with the aim of providing education to the poor and the needy. On 31 March 2018, a close associate of Teesta and Javed, Raees Khan Pathan, lodged an FIR against the couple for preaching hatred through their NGO by “mixing religion with politics.” Raees Khan Pathan further accused the duo of embezzling Rs 1.4 crore, which was granted to the NGO by the Government of India under the National Policy on Education scheme between 2008 to 2014. An FIR under the sections 153A and 153B of the IPC was registered against Teesta and Javed. The couple was granted anticipatory bail by the Gujarat High Court in 2019.
Arrested by the Gujarat Police
In June 2022, after the Supreme Court rejected a joint plea of Zakia Jafri and Teesta Setalvad, Teesta Setalvad was arrested by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the Gujarat Police on the charges of falsely procuring “fake and misleading” documents to frame the then Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government. The Gujarat Police levied the charges on Teesta under Sections 468, 471 (forgery), 194 (giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence), 211 (institute criminal proceedings to cause injury), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save a person from punishment or property from forfeiture), and 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. While giving an official statement, the Supreme Court stated,
Teesta has been vindictively persecuting this lie for her ulterior design by exploiting the emotions and sentiments of Zakia Jafri. The proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years to keep the pot boiling, for ulterior design. However, the court has observed that it does not wish to get into the locus of Teesta Setalvad (secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace, an organisation allegedly formed to advocate for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots) in the litigation and has kept it to be decided in an appropriate case. All those involved in such abuse of process need to be in dock and proceeded with in accordance with law. The appeal against 2012 decision of the court is with malafide intent and under the dictation of someone.”
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1993, Teesta Setalvad was awarded the Journalism for Human Rights Award by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
- In 1993, she was awarded the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediaperson by The Media Foundation.
- In 1999, Teesta along with her husband, Javed, was presented Hakim Khan Sur Award by Maharana Mewar Foundation.
- In 2000, she was awarded Human Rights Award by the Dalit Liberation Education Trust.
- In 2001, Teesta was awarded Pax Christi International Peace Award given to her by the Evangelical group.
- In 2002, Teesta Setalvad was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award by the Indian National Congress.
- In 2003, she was given the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award for Social Activism by Germany.
- In 2004, she was given the Defender of Democracy Award by Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA).
- In 2004, Teesta was awarded M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award by the Vigil India Movement.
- In 2006, she was awarded Nani A Palkhivala Award which was given to her by Tata Group.
- In 2007, she was awarded the Matoshree Bhimabai Ambedkar Award given to her by the Sambodhi Pratishthan of Satara.
- In 2007, Teesta Setalvad was awarded Padma Shri for Public Affairs by the Government of India.
- In 2009, she was awarded FIMA Excellence Award by the Federation of Indian Muslim Associations in Kuwait.
Teesta Setalvad owns a bungalow named Nirant in Mumbai at Juhu Road. It is claimed by several sources that her bungalow is almost thrice as big as Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow named Jalsa. The total value of the Bungalow is between Rs 400 to Rs 600 crore. The bungalow also has a lawn that spreads over 3 acres of land.
- In 2020, Teesta Setalvad was honoured with an Honourary Doctorate by the British Columbian University.
- After her arrest in 2022, Home Minister Amit Shah broke his silence and lashed out at Teesta Setalvad and her NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, for conspiring against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During an interview, Amit Shah stated,
I have already read the judgement very carefully. The judgement clearly mentions the name of Teesta Setalvad. The NGO that was run being run by her – I do not remember the name of the NGO- had given baseless information about the riots to the police.”
- Teesta Setalvad is a staunch advocate of friendly India-Pakistan relations. She is also a member of the inner circle of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy.
- While giving an interview once, Teesta Setalvad said that she shared a very stormy relationship with her mother, and was more close and attached to her father and grandfather as well.
- Many famous journalists believe that Teesta Setalvad is being hounded by the authorities for openly criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During an interview, Indira Jaising stated,
The case against Teesta smacks of a dubious plan to deter her and her NGO from assisting the victims of the Gujarat 2002 riots. The financial dealings of Teesta Setalvad and Citizens for Justice and Peace can be probed by the government, but the disproportionality of the legal process, the timing, and the insistence of the prosecution on custodial interrogation smack of an evil vendetta.”