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Gujarat PUCL comes down heavily on media for "inflating" misappropriation charge against Teesta Setalvad

A Mumbai protest against Setalvad
By Our Representative
In what may seem to be a surprise move to many, Gujarat unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) made the occasion of a press conference called in “defense” of well-known human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand to sharply attack the media for allegedly blowing Gujarat police accusations against the two activists on misappropriating NGO funds "completely out of proportion". Addressing mediapersons, Gujarat PUCL chief Gautam Thaker, who led the attack, said, “It was shocking to see such unprecedented interest in the media. Some papers went so far as to make eight column headlines.”
Thaker said, “We are not here to defend anyone. But the way the police acted by knocking on the door of Setalvad in Mumbai to arrest Setalvad and Anand within hours of the Gujarat High Court denying anticipatory bail to them suggests the state government wants to create an atmosphere of fear among activists. Clearly, the police want her to torture her.” He added, “This is not an isolated incident. Arrests and detentions of activists have become a norm. Anybody is picked up from anywhere in the name of safeguarding law and order.”
Suggesting that all this has not been highlighted by the media, Thaker said, “Curfew is imposed at any drop of the hat. Things have reached such a point that activists are being picked up under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) Act, which is meant to be imposed on those seeking to create social unrest such as communal riots.” Pointing out that effort to harass Setalvad should be seen in this context, he added, “If there are allegations against Setalvad, they should be appropriately investigated, but not in this way.”
Taking a similar view, even as criticizing the media, Hiren Gandhi of Insaf, another rights-based organization, said, “There is an effort to come up with false cases against activists. They are being harassed here, in Mithi Virdi, where the Government of India plans a nuclear plant, everywhere. If there misappropriation by someone, it should be properly investigated. And media should not blow things out of proportion.” The PUCL press meet was the only "protest" against Gujarat police, and in the state in favour of Setalvad, by state-based activists in the recent past.
Well-known danseuse Mallika Sarabhai, present on the occasion, came out in sharp defense of Setalvad, saying, “Gujarat government has begun a virtual witch hunt against the human rights activist. I have also gone through a similar witch hunt. Non-bailable warrant was issued against me by charging me of misappropriating funds. It was political against me, it is political against Setalvad. Why is there on investigate on politicians who do hundreds of crores of corruption, and face murder charges, when here it’s question of just Rs 4 lakh.”
Father Cedric Prakash of Prashant said, one point being raised is that trustees of the Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ) had no knowledge of the funds being spent by Setalvad and Anand though they were meant for riot victims. Reading out a statement on behalf of all the trustees – who include IM Kadri, Nandan Maluste, Cyrus Guzder, Alyque Padamsee, Anil Dharker, Shankuntala Kulkarni, Rahul Bose and he – Prakash said, they stood by Setalvad during “these difficult times” and have no doubt about her “honesty and integrity”.
Speaking on the occasion, Sairaben, one of the riot victims who lived in the Gulberg Society when it was attacked by rioters in 2002, said, “Even today, we being treated like culprits. Even on smallest of pretext, the police detains my husband. We are made to take the permission of the police to visit our houses in the Gulberg Society for our religious rites.” She added, “All through the last more than 12 years, Setalvad has stood by us. How can we side with those who are trying to put charges of misappropriation against her?” 

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