We the undersigned express their profound dismay and disquiet at the continued official harassment by the central government of leading human rights defenders Teesta Setlawad and Jawed Anand. Since the installation of the BJP led government in Delhi in May 2014, the country has witnessed open strenuous official efforts to foist a large variety of charges of financial irregularity on them, to harass them, to tarnish their reputations, and to secure their arrests. Fortunately the interventions of the higher judiciary have protected them so far. However the latest raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation into their home and offices in Mumbai on 14 July 2015 are signs of continuing open misuse of official bodies to harass these human rights defenders.
It is well-known that Teesta Setlawad and Jawed Anand have fought an unrelenting battle not only to bring to book criminals who committed gruesome hate crimes against Muslims in the carnage of 2002, but also to expose the role of the Gujarat government in enabling, abetting and even organising these crimes. They have been fearless in charging the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently the country's Prime Minister, with direct criminal culpability for these crimes. For this they have assisted the widow of a former MP who was slaughtered in the carnage Zakia Jafri to fight a brave court battle in which the first accused is the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. They are also appealing against court orders to free on bail prominent political leaders of the BJP convicted of the worst massacre in Naroda Patiya, Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi.
What we are witnessing is crude and defiant misuse of official bodies to beat down these human rights defenders so as to silence their voices, break their morale and divert them from their unrelenting battles in defence of justice which charge the country's current leadership with complicity in hate crimes. The veracity of their charges will be decided in the country's courts. But their right to fight for justice on behalf of the survivors of one of the most shameful communal carnages in the history of free India is protected by India's democracy. The open official bullying of courageous human rights defenders even as persons charged with a range of serious crimes walk free are brazen official attempts to diminish Indian democracy. These must be powerfully resisted by all democratic voices in the country.
Harsh Mander, Aman Biradari and Centre for Equity Studies
Shabnam Hashmi, social activist, Anhad
Kamal Faruqi, FCA, Former Chairman Delhi Minorities Commission, Sheeba Aslam Fehmi-Writer, Journalist.