By Syed Ali Mujtaba
There are many instances where untruth has triumphed. The latest case of “Asatyameva Jayate“ is Supreme Court’s judgment on Teesta Setalvad, R B Sreekumar, and Sanjiv Bhatt.
The judgment was pronounced on a simple case of an appeal against an order of the Gujarat High Court which rejected the revision petition filed by Zakia Jafri widow of late Ahsan Jafri. The judgment could have gone unnoticed if had just rejected the appeal but that’s not it, the Supreme Court don on it the mantle of infinite justice, something towards which every human looks for mercy.
The judgment makes observations like; “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat (R B Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt) along with others (Teesta Setalvad) intention was to create a sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge.”
It adds; “they had the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious stratagem adopted to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design. They conspired to fabricate evidence, tutor witnesses, and abuse the process of law. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with the law. “
Commenting on the judgment, Senior SC lawyer Kamini Jaiswal said, what Supreme Court has pronounced is beyond CRPC (code of criminal procedure) and beyond its jurisdiction. It’s “completely illegal, unconstitutional and violates every tenet of law and fundamental rights”.
The lawyer goes on to say, “SC observations were just “sermons” which have resulted in arrests of Teesta Setalvad, IPS officers R B Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt (already in jail in a concocted case) and who were not the parties in this petition. The apex court never issued them notices and yet passed such a judgment in “violation of their fundamental right” and also it “demonized” a widow (Zakia), Kamini Jaiswal commented.
Jaiswal said the Supreme Court bench ignored NHRC reports and the report of amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, who had stated that investigation, was required to probe the role of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
However, since the observations have come from the Apex Court, Setalvad, Sreekumar, and Bhatt may not get any relief so easily, and for them, it could be a long haul, Kamini Jaiswal observed.
A Gujarat High Court lawyer, Anand Yagnik, also criticized the judgment saying “…Supreme Court has started a new chapter of castigating those who are espousing the cause for justice and those who are fighting for human rights now are made accused in spite of the fact that Sanjiv Bhatt and Sreekumar were not there before the court.”
The judgment casts its net very wide. It makes the case that covered the time period of the offense that ranged from Jan. 1, 2002, to Jun. 25, 2022. In effect, every effort for justice for the victims of 2002, be it petitions filed in the High Court, Supreme Court, or the Magistrates’ Court is criminalized.
The process, which should have made the state accountable for establishing the guilt of those accused of serious crimes, is tarred with a criminal brush by criminalizing the quest for justice by the victims of the Gujarat riots. It also seeks to deter citizens from holding the state accountable for enabling violence in the future, and in effect conveys that the state can do no wrong.
If any hope for reopening the 2002 post-Godhra riots was left, it was dashed by the Supreme Court which rubbished the appeal and threw it out of the window. It is only after that that the Gujarat Police launched a crackdown on the three crusaders; Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, and Sanjiv Bhatt.
The basic question before the court was whether Narendra Modi as the then Chief Minister was there at a meeting of top officials on the day the Sabarmati Express was torched killing 59 Kar Sevaks. Whether Modi issued a directive to let Hindus have a free hand to vent their anger against Muslims in the state?
IPS Sanjeev Bhatt alleged that Modi did. He claimed that the then Gujarat CM was present at the meeting. However, an SIT that was tasked by the Supreme Court to probe the case, found forensic evidence to establish that Modi was elsewhere at the time of the meeting. The SIT surmised that Bhatt’s claim was hyperventilated by others to build a false case against Modi.
RB Sreekumar a 1971 batch IPS officer, who was ADGP in charge of the armed unit in Gujarat during the Godhra incident, was one of the very few officials who testified against the Gujarat CM before the Nanavati Commission that looked into the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Human rights activists and lawyer Teesta Setalvad pleaded the case of Zakia Jafri widow of late Ahsan Jafri. The Gujarat High Court upheld the SIT’s conclusion that there was no larger conspiracy behind the Gulbarg Society riots. The plaintiff went to the Supreme Court for an appeal against the High Court’s judgment, and lawyer Teesta Setalvad pleaded Zakia Jafri’s case.
The Supreme Court’s judgment is a classic example of Satyameva Jayate” getting defeated and “Asatyameva Jayate or untruth triumphing. It is only after getting the Supreme Court’s judgment that the BJP government exercised the state power to go after the crusaders of justice, Setalvad, Sreekumar, and Sanjiv Bhatt. If the Apex Court had simply rejected the appeal, it would have closed a dark chapter of Indian history, and possibly that may have helped heal the wounds of the Gujarat riots.
However, by going after those who thought to go by the call of their ‘conscience’, the entire discourse of “Satyameva Jayate” has been turned on its head. “Asatyameva Jayate” can also triumph is the conclusion that dim-witted like has drawn from Teesta Setalvad Case.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org