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PUCL book ignores top human rights leaders, calls RSS mouthpiece Sadhana fearless

By Rajiv Shah 
There is flutter among top human rights activists of Gujarat. A new book by the Gujarat chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India’s premier rights body, has not only undermined the role of Gujarat’s senior human rights activists, it has failed to recall some of the basic human rights issues nagging the state. Brought out in Gujarati, and titled “Four Decades of Human Rights in Gujarat and Civil Liberties Movement (1974-2014)", it carries, for instance, just two passing references to top human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, currently the target of powerful state establishment for fighting 2002 Gujarat riots cases.
A senior human rights activist complained, “When it comes to human rights, those who have acquired national fame from Gujarat include Teesta Setalvad, Mukul Sinha, Martin Macwan, Gagan Sethi, Achyut Yagnik, Rohit Prajapati and Cedric Prakash.” While Sinha, who died recently, and Prajapati find “vague mention” at a couple of spots (like Setalvad), the book does not even once recall Yagnik, Macwan or Sethi. Yagnik, it may be recalled, headed the PUCL’s Gujarat chapter in its initial years of 1980s, and was one of the foremost campaigners against the dominant caste-sponsored violent anti-reservation agitation.
Interestingly, while the book provides statements and detailed meetings of how the PUCL represented to the top state and national authorities against the authorities’ “failure” to deal with the 2002 communal riots, it does not seem to think that untouchability, or manual scavenging, is a human rights issue in Gujarat – despite its reference in Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports. Worse, the report ignores attack on Dalits, including the Golana tragedy in which six of Macwan’s and Sethi’s colleagues were gunned down by dominant caste people in 1986, or the murder of Dalit youth in Thangadh in 2012.
Edited by Gautam Thaker, PUCL’s Gujarat head, the book addresses Setalvad as a “well-known and fearless journalist” (sic!). A senior activist said, “Setalvad has established herself as top rights defender, and all-India PUCL recently representing before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking justice to her, pleading to stop harassment to her and her colleagues by seeking to implicate her in a fake embezzlement case. Gujarat authorities are doing this because it was her intervention in the Supreme Court and other courts which led to over 110 convictions so far with other trials nearing completion.”
Interestingly, the reference to Setalvad as journalist runs parallel the editor of the book, Thaker, in his introductory remarks praising RSS’ mouthpiece “Sadhana” as a "fearless" periodical. At two other places, the book refers to – albeit in passing – contributions by Vishnu Pandya, a former “Sadhana” editor and currently a top Sangh Parivar “intellectual” in Gujarat known to gone close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the civil rights movement. The book’s cover has a huge photograph of anti-emergency fighter Jay Prakash Narayan, referring to him as the symbol of “light in times of darkness.”
When contacted for reaction, Yagnik told Counterview, “Yes, I have noticed. I have been ignored in the book, and my colleagues are upset about it. Even the invitation card which I received did not have my name, though I headed PUCL once. I don’t want to make an issue. I appeal for unity when there are fresh signs of attack on civil liberty.” Others, who did not want to be named, added, “Publishers of the book have taken one-sided picture of the human rights movement in Gujarat, suggesting how divisions in it find reflected in PUCL’s Gujarat literature as well. It is not known if this has happened because of ignorance.”

Comments

Gautam Thaker said…
1. This book is purely the work carried out by Gujarat PUCL during last 40 years. It includes work and reports carried out under the banner of PUCL, Gujarat only. So there is no question of ignoring other top human right activist of Gujarat.

2. I have got highest regard for Tessta Setalvad, late Mukul Sinha, Martin Macwan, Gangan Sethi, Achyut Yagnik, Rohit Prajapati, and Cedric Prakash for their excellent work in human right field of Gujarat. I salute their activities. Again I reiterate, this book contains the human rights and civil liberty works carried out by Gujarat PUCL only. There is no question of disregard or ignoring other activists of Gujarat.

3. Let us refer your another allegation about praises “RSS mouthpiece, Sadhana’s fearless journalism.” My explanation is as under:
During emergency in 1975-77, all the groups including Congress O, socialist leaders, Sarvoday and Gandhian leaders and groups, Jansangh, RSS, Sevadal and others together fought for democratic values and restoration of constitutional rights given in the preamble. Pre-censorship was there during the emergency. Leading advocate, Chandrakant Daru fought for Bhoomiputra (run by Savoday Gandhians) and Sadhana which was edited by Vishnu Pandya. Both the periodicals were fighting against pre-censorships and emergency. It was the battle for survival during that period. All the groups were united to fight against authoritarian rule, during that time Sadhana in real sense fought for all the values for which Jay Prakash Narayan, V M Tarkunde, and all others are fighting.

4. Gujarat PUCL had taken clear stand during all the last 12 years against 2002 carnage. PUCL always standby Tessta Setalvad and late Mukul Sinha fighting for justice for minorities and others. My dear Rajiv, you can see the page no. 132 of the book that we have met Dr. Kamalaji, the then governor of Gujarat on 11 January 2011 about Teesta Setalvad and Advocate Tirmizi. We have also written to Chief Justice of India, H.S. Kapadia on February 6, 2012 about SIT and about Raju Ramchandra’s report which you can see that on page no. 149. On many occasions, we have supported the entire human right activist working fearlessly, naturally that includes Tessta Setalvad and others.

When under the leadership of Rohit Prajapati and agitation was carried out for KADA movement and statue of Unity of Sadar Patel and Kevadia, Rohit and others were house arrest. It was on 31st October 2013 and holiday eventhough we rushed to the honorable governor and asked her for the immediate removal of police from the house arrest area. This type of work carried out by Gujarat PUCL.

5. Before writing in counterview about this book you may have contacted me and seek my explanation about your views, this controversy could have been avoided. You did contacted Achutbhai Yagnik for his reaction then why you didn’t contacted me on phone and in person, although you know I am always available to you.

Gautam Thaker
Editor of the book

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