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Mainstream, VOL LX No 29, New Delhi, July 9, 2022

Dissident Voice of a ‘Foot Soldier of the Constitution’ | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 8 July 2022, by Arup Kumar Sen

Very recently, the eminent human rights activist, Teesta Setalvad was arrested by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) officials for “allegedly fabricating evidence, committing forgery and criminal conspiracy”. This happened a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition challenging the clean chit given by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others in the 2002 Gujarat riots case”. (www.indiatoday.in)

In her memoir titled ‘Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir’, published in 2017, Teesta Setalvad observed: “The work in Gujarat for which people know me, Teesta Setalvad, did not just begin overnight. It did not begin out of nowhere. It grew from a lifetime of public interventions for accountability and justice. What has driven me is a much larger conviction — the need for India and our institutions to be just”. She also reflected on the trajectory of communal politics in India: “Part of the explanation for the palpable anti-Muslim sentiment in the 1990s can be found in the methodical work of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) from the 1980s onwards...Gujarat had been and remains critical to the RSS-VHP project of building a Hindu Rashtra”.

After narrating the 2002 Gujarat carnage in her memoir, Setalvad observed:

That is the story of the Gujarat genocidal carnage. It transformed Gujarat. It also transformed me. As I said to a journalist interviewing me some years later, ‘it is not easy to be normal again’.

Teesta Setalvad expressed apprehensions of her arrest in the Memoir: “I was a target of this government, which was hell bent on my incarceration at any cost...The Government has — almost obsessively — sought to cut me down to size”.

Teesta Setalvad’s apprehension has come true. We don’t have the legal expertise to comment on the allegations against her. However, Giorgio Agamben’s theorization of State of Exception comes to our mind in the context of her arrest: “...modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system”. (Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, The University of Chicago Press, 2005)

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