Case against company an act of retribution: Javed Anand9 min read
Javed Anand is a social activist involved with minority rights and anti-communalism reportage. He and wife Teesta Setalvad have been instrumental in the fight for justice for victims of the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom through their organization “Citizens for Justice and Peace”. Co-founder of the monthly advocacy magazine ‘Communalism Combat’, Javed Anand has also been involved in promoting gender rights and secularism within the Muslim community and has recently been involved in founding an NGO ‘Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy’. He has also founded Sabrang India, a free media platform.
Javed Anand and his wife Teesta Setalvad also were in news recently for accusations against their organization Sabrang Communications for receiving foreign funding. In Manipal to deliver a workshop on “Free Public Spirited Investigative Journalism” at Article 19, School of Communication’s annual media fest, he talks to The Manipal Journal for an exclusive:
You have been involved in the battle against communalism since the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots that followed it. What made you quit your mainstream journalism career and take up the advocacy of this cause with your magazine “Communalism Combat”?
When we decided to leave mainstream media, many of our friends thought we were being foolish because we were leaving a media which had a far greater reach compared to our magazine. But we believed that those who had taken up communalism as a profession work full time at their job. In the mainstream media, we could not devote full time to countering this issue. It was for this reason mainly that my wife Teesta Setalvad, and I decided to leave mainstream media and start Communalism Combat- an advocacy magazine dedicated to the growing issue of communalism. For several years now, under the aegis of Communalism Combat, we have organized public meetings in Bombay where we had prominent citizens, retired judges, police officers, all asking the same question as to how can this go on, and why are perpetrators of violence not punished.
Your fellow activist and wife, Teesta Setalvad in her Memoir “Foot soldier of the constitution” mentions certain a ‘culture of impunity’ in the main administration. She says that there exists a steel frame that resists accountability and transparency. Do you think this lack of accountability and culture of impunity is also responsible for the failure of state machinery to tackle the problem of communalism?
Do you think there should have been more implementation on the recommendations of commissions like Shree Krishna and Liberhan commission? And are you satisfied with the verdict given on related issues in the recent past?
See, as far as the commission is concerned, since the 1960’s, after every major riot- like Ahmedabad, Jabalpur, Bombay, Bhiwandi, etc. – commissions are appointed to probe why the riots happened, who was responsible and what can be done to prevent these things happening in the future. Unfortunately, their recommendations were never brought into the public domain. They were never discussed and in the process, therefore, all these commission reports were left pending, except for the 1984 riots (when we talked about the carnage in which innocent Sikhs were killed).
In other cases, the commission reports talked about two things. First, they talked about the role of Hindu Communal organizations, and in some places Muslim communal organizations, who are active in building the atmosphere for these riot situations. Second, they talked about police biases and they made recommendations on how to control these two in future. Unfortunately, none of them were ever active. We believe that if those responsible for mass crimes in Bhagalpur had been punished, Punjab wouldn’t have happened. If those responsible for Punjab had been punished the Bombay riots wouldn’t have happened. If those responsible for Bombay would have been punished, Gujarat wouldn’t have happened.
This was the culture of impunity where state actors including the police, bureaucrats, Home Secretary, District Collectors, District Magistrates, are beholden responsible and no democracy can tolerate or should tolerate something like this. Before 2002, we were only working on the advocacy magazine. But after the Gujarat riots, we first went to court and we have some satisfaction in saying that our legal intervention has resulted into 137 people serving life sentences. At a program in Bombay, a highly respected police officer, Julio Ribero, said at the meeting. “But for CJP nobody would have been punished in Gujarat either”.
You and Teesta Satalvad have allegedly been continuously hounded by the government under the Foreign Contribution (regulation) Act (2010). You were recently charge-sheeted under the act by the CBI for being unable to produce accounts for funds received by your company Sabrang Communications and granted bail later. What would you say in your defense regarding the persecution and what are your overall views about the act itself?
This is not the only case against Teesta Setalvad. This is one of the seven-eight criminal charges that she is facing. And if you go into the details of what our organization Citizens for Justice and Peace is, with Teesta leading from the front it is clear that the charges we are facing are acts of retribution. Our work had made us very unpopular with the then chief minister and the present prime minister, and he is using the government machinery as his private property to go after us.
What is the case here? They are saying Sabrang Communications Pvt. Ltd. as per the FCRA Act, comes in a category which is prohibited from receiving foreign contribution. We do not dispute that. We only point to another provision in the same act which says that consultancies, as against grants, are exempt from the provisional clause that they say we violated. And before taking entry into this consultancy, we have taken legal advice from the lawyers saying that consultancy lies outside the ambit of FCRA Act. Therefore, there is no question of any violation. This is our position, now this can be easily settled in a court of law. It is ultimately for the court to decide whether our interpretation is right or their interpretation is right.
Where was the need for a 22-hour raid on our office premises? Why are we being singled out for this kind of a raid? How many other organizations that have been FCRA defaulters are raided like this? One day before the raid, we had written to the CBI, proactively to their officer in Delhi and Bombay that we had extended full cooperation to authorities from Home Ministry who had come to Bombay and we were quite willing to offer co-operation to them. Then where was the need for this kind of a raid? This is a civil offense. Why are we treated like criminals?
Now the point is that if it is not a grant and a consultancy amount, then the question of keeping separate accounts does not arrive. They are trying to show it as if we have not kept an account which is not true. We have kept account year after year. The audit reports have been filed every year. Income Tax reports have been filed. Income Tax Department found new problems with them. So then the only case is that we should not have received that money and in any case, if we have received money then we should put it into separate designated FCRA accounts. Now that follows if you are actually treating that money as FCRA money. We have taken legal advice and decided that this is not FCRA money. So the second allegation does not make sense. Keeping no separate account and keeping no accounts are two different things. They are deliberately mixing facts.
You were recently involved in the formation of an NGO- Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy.
One of the main agendas, as you have mentioned to the media was to fight the gender bias in the Muslim Community – an issue that you have been quite outspoken about in your public discourses like editorial and speeches.You have been a critique of Muslim traditions like Triple Talaq.
The reason to end gender bias in the Muslim community has also been given by the proponents of the Uniform Civil Code. Do you think that the Uniform Civil Code is a good way to tackle the problem and if not then why?
My problem is not with the Uniform Civil Code as it is propounded in the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution. If you read the Constitution as a whole, along with the chapter of Fundamental Rights and with the various articles under the Directive Principles, you will see the whole provision for Article 44. Its concern is to bring about uniformity in terms of gender justice. Gender justice in women could be brought theoretically in two ways. First,
First, common law for everybody, where Hindus, Muslims, Christians have similar parameters for gender issues. Second, you let different communities, for whom their customs and traditions are precious, follow them, provided these customs relating to marriage, divorce, maintenance, guardianship, etc. do not violate basic principles of gender justice. That would mean reform in Muslim Personal Law, Hindu Personal Law, Parsi Muslim Law separately. Each of the clauses should be put through an acid test whether they meet human rights criteria or not. Triple Talaq, for example, does not certainly. Hence, it must go. We are not against any genuine
We are not against any genuine endeavor from the state that includes nationwide, wide-ranging, spread over time, open, transparent, public discussion on what a gender just law would mean. Instead, the RSS, BJP are using this as a tool to harass the Muslim Community every five years especially during the election season and then the traditional Muslim community start shouting, “Islam is in Danger”. Then the purpose of the right wing is served. They claim that the Muslims do not want to follow or believe in the law of the land. They claim that Muslims want Sharia law. This, in turn, leads to stereotyping of the Muslim community which serves their propaganda. We have absolutely no issues with the intentions of the Directive Principles. We suspect the motivations of the RSS and Sangh Parivar in bringing up this issue.
What role does journalism play in combating communalism and do you think the mainstream media has been outspoken enough against it? What are the areas of improvement you suggest and what would be your advice on the same front to a person entering this profession?
When there is violence and blood on the street, the media reacts spontaneously and instinctively. A free press is conceivable only in a democracy, where there is a culture of human rights. And if you are not protectors and promoters of rights then what are you? You are endangering your own freedom by becoming just consumers and not defenders of freedom, which is what free press is really about. There is much more than it can do apart from the credible spontaneous reportage that it does about communal violence. It should also deal with the issue with the consistency, constancy, and seriousness that it deserves.
Edited By: Anirban Paul and Shreya Job.
Feature photograph courtesy: Madhurya Saxena.