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2002 Gujarat Riots: Who Are Teesta Setalvad, Sanjiv Bhatt, and RB Sreekumar?

The Crime Branch detained Teesta Setalvad & RB Sreekumar a day after the Supreme Court ruling in Zakia Jafri case.

Published
India
5 min read

Video Producer: Aparna Singh
Video Editor: Mohd. Irshad Alam, Rahul Sanpui

The Gujarat Police Crime Branch on Saturday, 25 June, detained journalist-activist Teesta Setalvad and former Gujarat state Director-General of Police (DIG) RB Sreekumar after a complaint was filed at the DCB Police Station in Ahmedabad.

This comes one day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Zakia in her petition had challenged the clean chit given to the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others by an independent Special Investigation Team (SIT).

The complaint which mentions Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, and former Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, cited the Supreme Court judgment which says that Setalvad "exploited" Zakia Jafri's emotions.

"Antecedents of Teesta Setalvad need to be reckoned with and also because she has been vindictively persecuting this lis [dispute] for her ulterior design by exploiting the emotions and sentiments of Zakia Jafri, the real victim of the circumstances," the court order said.

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While Bhatt is currently in jail serving life imprisonment in connection with a 1990 custodial death case, Setalvad was detained from her Mumbai residence, and Sreekumar from his Gandhinagar home.

Here's a quick timeline of events and background on who are these individuals and how are they connected with the 2002 Gujarat Riots.

Teesta Setalvad

Setalvad, an activist and a journalist, is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) – an organisation formed to advocate for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat Riots.

A co-petitioner in the Zakia Jafri case, Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, also a journalist and civil rights activist, co-edit Communalism Combat – a monthly magazine by Sabrang Communications.

Setalvad has previously worked with national dailies like The Indian Express and the Business India magazine.

On 10 June 2002, a few months after the Gujarat Riots, Setalvad testified at the United Nations Commission on International Religious Freedom against the then Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government for its role in the communal violence.

In her petition filed with Zakia Jafri, Setalvad and her organisation CJP demanded a criminal trial of Narendra Modi and 63 other politicians, alleging criminal conspiracy to fan communal tensions in the state in the wake of the Godhra Train Tragedy.

The Supreme Court in 2009 appointed an SIT in response to the petition. In 2012, a trial court observed that the SIT has not found any evidence to prosecute Modi or any other top government officials or bureaucrats in connection with the case.

In 2013, Zakia Jafri and CJP filed a protest petition in response to which the SIT claimed in a local court that Teesta Setalvad and others have "falsified" the complaint targetting Modi.

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In November 2004, Setalvad was accused of pressuring Zaheera Sheikh, the key witness in the Best Bakery case, to make certain statements. Later, in August 2005, the Supreme Court of India committee absolved her of the charges of inducement levelled against her by Zaheera and awarded a one-year jail term to Zaheera for perjury.

In 2013, twelve residents of the Gulbarg Society accused Setalvad of collecting donations in the name of riot victims but failing to use them for their benefit and sent a legal notice to her. The case is being investigated by the Gujarat Police Crime Branch.

In another controversy, it was alleged that Setalvad's Sabrang Communications which was not registered under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), accepted donations from US-based Ford Foundation without the government's approval.

Over the years, Setalvad has been honoured with several national and international awards including the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediaperson in 1993, Maharana Mewar Foundation's Hakim Khan Sur Award in 1999, Human Rights Award of the Dalit Liberation Education Trust in 2000, Nuremberg International Human Rights Award in 2003, and a Padma Shri in 2007 by the Government of India.

Sanjiv Bhatt

Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, alleging that he attended a meeting in which the latter "asked top police officials to let Hindus vent their anger against the Muslims."

Bhatt's charged were dismissed by the SIT.

In 2015, he was removed from police service and was tried in cases filed against him by the Gujarat government. In its judgment, the court observed that Bhatt "hatched a political conspiracy, was tutored by certain NGOs, and was involved in politics of creating pressure."
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An M-Tech degree holder from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B), Bhatt joined the Indian Police Service in 1988.

During his early career, several charges of torture and police brutality were levelled against him.

From December 1999 to September 2002, he worked as Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence in the state Intelligence Bureau at Gandhinagar.

In 2011, nine years after the Gujarat Riots, Bhatt submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the then Chief Minister Modi. He also accused the SIT of trying to "hide the truth" behind the riots.

The same year, he filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) calling for an independent agency to investigate the riots or, alternatively, for the case to be transferred outside Gujarat.

In August 2011, he was suspended by the Gujarat government on grounds of absence from duty.

Later in 2015, the Supreme Court in its ruling observed that Bhatt's allegations against the SIT are totally "false and baseless."

In 2012, Bhatt and six other policemen were charged with murder in the 1990 custodial death case of Prabhudas Vaishnani. On 20 June 2019, he was sentenced to life in connection with this case.

RB Sreekumar

A former DIG, Sreekumar joined the Indian Police Service in 1971 and retired in 2007. Sreekumar was the additional director general of police in charge of the armed unit in Gujarat during the 2002 Riots and became the DGP immediately after.

He filed affidavits before the Nanavati-Mehta Commission, formed by the Gujarat government to probe the 2002 Riots, in which he alleged involvement of law and order agencies in fanning the tensions and how he was "tutored" by bureaucrats to say certain things. These claims were later dismissed by the Supreme Court of India.

Later, he was denied promotion by the Gujarat government to the rank of director general of police. He took his case to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) that ruled in September 2006 in his favour. This order was again reversed by the Gujarat High Court in 2015.
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In 1994, Sreekumar was a deputy director, Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) at Thiruvananthapuram, when former scientist, Nambi Narayanan was framed in the ISRO espionage scandal.

Narayanan who was accused of passing on documents and drawings of ISRO to Pakistan, won a clean chit in 2018. The CBI named Sreekumar and others in an alleged conspiracy to frame the scientist.

Sreekumar later filed a defamation case against Nambi Narayanan along with BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and Meenakshi Lekhi, for trying to malign his name using false charges in connection with the case.

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