About Warped Minds

Update: See this FAQ by Sundeep Dougal.

Guest post by DILIP D’SOUZA

All over again, timed with the run up to voting, there’s plenty of uproar over Gujarat. A Times of India journalist called Dhananjay Mahapatra wrote a report (NGOs, Teesta spiced up Gujarat riot incidents: SIT, April 14) which casts doubt on a number of aspects of the violence in Gujarat in 2002.

In his report, Mahapatra mentions the Special Investigation Team that has been looking into the violence. On April 13, writes Mahapatra, “the SIT led by former CBI Director RK Raghavan told the Supreme Court on Monday that [Teesta Setalvad] exaggerated macabre tales of wanton killings.” (Note the impression he gives that Raghavan himself was in Court on Monday to say this). Mahapatra’s report also tells us several things that Gujarat counsel Mukul Rohatgi said in Court.

Among others, Mahapatra makes these allegations:

* 22 witnesses who had submitted “identical affidavits” regarding the carnage were found to have been “tutored” by Teesta Setalvad and had “not actually witnessed” incidents during the violence.

* The SIT also found “no truth” in three “widely publicised” incidents:

– that a pregnant woman, Kausar Banu, had been gangraped and killed, her body slit open to remove her foetus.

– that dead bodies had been dumped in a well in Naroda Patia

– the police botched up investigations into the killing of some British nationals who got caught in the violence.

Mahapatra ends this part of the report with this direct quote from Rohatgi:

“On a reading of the report, it is clear that horrendous allegations made by the NGOs were false. Stereotyped affidavits were supplied by a social activist and the allegations made in them were found untrue.”

Right here there are questions about Mahapatra’s news report. From his own writing, it is clear that it is Rohatgi who claims that Setalvad and NGOs spiced up the incidents. Not the SIT.

Mahapatra also reports that the SC Bench “swiftly told” Rohatgi that regardless of his particular reading of the SIT report:

– it was the efforts of the SIT that had resulted in action against “many more accused” than Rohatgi’s client, the Gujarat Government, had managed.

– there was “no room” for allegations and counter-allegations now. “In riot cases,” the Judges observed, “the more the delay, there is likelihood of falsity creeping in.”

That last observation, about falsity, is worth keeping in mind as we try to make sense of all this.

Naturally, various pundits with their own dislike for Teesta Setalvad, her NGO and their methods, immediately offered their various comments on all this. That’s their prerogative, of course. But it’s interesting to note that the one thing they picked on from Mahapatra’s report to comment on was his assertion that there was “no truth” in the Kausar Banu murder. (Swapan Dasgupta, for example, uses Mahapatra’s report to say that the stories of disembowelled pregnant women “appear to have been the product of warped minds”; he doesn’t even mention Mahapatra’s other claims, for example about the affidavits. See his Apologise to Gujarat).

CJP, Sahmat and Setalvad put out their own responses to Mahapatra’s report. They make these points:

* Mahapatra says the “SIT led by former CBI Director RK Raghavan told the Supreme Court” about Setalvad’s supposed falsehoods. Yet nobody from the SIT, certainly not Raghavan, was at the SC on April 13 to tell the SC anything.

* The SIT submitted a report to the SC in March 2007, whose contents are not public.

* The Gujarat government produced its own comment on the SIT report, and this is what Rohatgi tried to read out in Court. (Not the report itself).

Faced with this, Mahapatra himself issued a rebuttal (Report based on SIT findings, April 16) in which he says his paper has a
copy of the SIT report.

He quotes from it. Most of his rebuttal is about statements by 19 (not 22) witnesses. They came before the investigating officer with previously prepared statements that Setalvad and advocate Tirmiji had helped them prepare. Nowhere in his rebuttal does Mahapatra repeat his earlier claim that they were “identical affidavits”. Why?

Mahapatra goes on to say that the IO explained to these witnesses that according to law, he could not take these statements on record, and that he had to “write the statement … after interrogating them personally.” When he did this, he found “discrepancies” and “contradictions” between the previously prepared statements (which he wasn’t considering anyway) and the ones he wrote down. This prompted six witnesses to now say that they had themselves prepared their earlier statements, not Setalvad and Tirmiji.

Mahapatra comments: “In other words, [these] witnesses changed their version about who had prepared their signed statements.” The “signed statements” that, let me repeat, the IO was not going to consider anyway.

That these witnesses “changed their version”, and the explanation of the way the law requires witness statements to be made is, according to Mahapatra’s own rebuttal, the substance of his allegations against Setalvad and her NGO.

Repeat: the sum total.

Note the omission from Mahapatra’s rebuttal. He makes no mention of the three “widely publicised” incidents he originally claimed the SIT had found “no truth” in. No mention of British nationals, no mention of bodies dumped in a well, no mention of Kausar Banu.

Mahapatra simply lets those serious allegations hang in the wind. On Swapan Dasgupta’s site, one commenter has already called the Kausar Banu murder “a myth”. Better, these years later, to pretend it’s a myth than to actually seek to deliver justice for horrible crimes.

But it was no myth. On December 12 2003, for example, two separate witnesses told the Nanavati Commission about the evisceration and murder of Kausar Banu. That deposition was reported in a news item titled “Nanavati panel hears stories of rape, murder”. Where did that news item appear? In Dhananjay Mahapatra’s own newspaper: the Times of
India (see Nanavati panel hears stories of rape, murder, Dec 13 2003).

Should we now denounce those two witnesses as “warped minds”? What about the Nanavati Commission itself?

Let’s sum this up quickly. The bloodshed across Gujarat in 2002 — from people burned alive in a train to people slaughtered in their homes — is a matter of public record. It is hardly surprising that there are those who try, as the years pass, to turn that public record on its head.

Yet this is itself the reason justice must be delivered to the victims of the killings of 2002. We know the SIT and the Supreme Court will not be distracted by assorted attempts to deny that bloodshed, and will work to deliver that justice.

(Dilip blogs at Death Ends Fun.)

13 thoughts on “About Warped Minds”

  1. What a shame that incidents corroborated by two witnesses are being labeled as products of “warped minds”.

    Sad state this is!

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  2. I wanted to point out that Pratap Mehta has clarified and restated his position in response to emails from another blog

    Pratap Bhanu Mehta replies:

    1. My intention was not to expose Teesta. I have no competence and desire to do so. I was just stuck by the fact that this seemed to be an important story, carried by a “credible” newspaper, the Economic Times, followed by TOI and a slightly different version by IBN.

    2. I tried to verify whether TOI indeed had the SIT in question and was led to believe they did. I know we are sceptical of news reports, but I assumed that ET would have at least some minimal standards of accuracy in reporting.

    3.That seemed to me sufficient to warrant a blog comment. Now if it turns out that the ET and TOI “lied” I will be relieved and distraught in different ways. I will be relieved that charges against Teesta are untrue. I will be distraught because it will raise serious questions about whom one can trust in matters of reportage. It will confirm, in a different way, the deep crisis of credibility and adjudication facing Indian society. After all, it was the same reporters and newspapers and editors one relied on for reporting on the horrendous carnage in Gujarat. And once the credibility of all these institutions of reporting declines, everyone will feel entitled to believe what they want.

    4. I also regret that many responses seem to bring out the latent crisis in Indian democracy. So many people jumped to the unwarranted conclusion that if some of what is alleged to be said against Teesta is true, it automatically exonerates the Gujarat government. This is far from being the case.

    http://lawandotherthings.blogspot.com/2009/04/expose-of-activism-and-truth.html

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  3. Mr Mahapatra, in his rebuttal has said this “All of them [witnesses] had brought with them ready-made statements prepared on computer and requested IO to take them on record.” and that “On questioning them in respect of the typed statements, all 3 of them stated that the computerized prepared statements were given to them by Smt Teesta Setalvad and advocate Tirmiji and that they had merely signed and initialed on such prepared statements.”

    Repeat: “were given to them by Smt Teesta Setalvad and advocate Tirmiji and that they had merely signed and initialed on such prepared statements”. NOT “prepared statements that Setalvad and advocate Tirmiji had helped them prepare” as you allege! Merely signing on prepared statements does mean tutoring!

    Also note, “they requested the statements be taken on record”. You want to make it seem that these folks came up with signed and prepared statements just out of blue, while knowing that they would not be admitted anyway!

    Mr Mahapatra also says that “there are discrepancies between the prepared statements and statements recorded by the IO. In respect of 6 witnesses, there are contradictory statements relating to the names of the accused they were linking with (the) crime” What does that mean? If the witness has signed on a statement and gives another statement to the IO, what level of trust can you put into the statement of such witnesses? Also, if the witnesses change the version of who prepared the signed statements, as it has been found in the SIT report and has been quoted by Mr. Mahapatra, can one believe the statements of such witnesses?

    In other words, the sum total of Mr. Mahapatra’s rebuttal is not what you allege. The sum total is this: The witnesses came with prepared statements and asked those statements to be admitted. When questioned by the IO, they gave statements contradictory to the statements that they had signed and submitted earlier. The witnesses were found to be tutored by Ms. Seetavad and advocate Tirmiji, to the extent that they were linking different people to the crime in question.

    Mr Mahapatra has quoted from the report regarding the first two points that he has made in his original article, i.e. regarding Ahmedabad police commissioner C P Pandey and regarding tutoring of witnesses. He has not substantiated other allegations, the truth about those shall come out when SIT report goes public. Nevertheless, by the standards of your journalists pals, he seems to have done a much better job.

    So, instead of throwing mud at him and hoping that some of it sticks, please stop lying.

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  4. Ah, so your name is Ankit? Why, were you too scared to use it a couple of hours earlier when you left the same comment on my blog?

    Never mind. Here’s my response, cut/paste job from there.

    Merely signing on prepared statements does mean tutoring!

    If you like. The point is, it’s irrelevant. According to Mahapatra himself, the IO told all the witnesses that “under Section 161 the officer is required to write the statement of witnesses after interrogating them personally.”

    i.e. any statements they came to the IO with were irrelevant.

    while knowing that they would not be admitted anyway!

    Whether they knew or not, I’m not even interested in because it is also irrelevant. The important thing was, the IO told them he was going to record their statements and ignore anything else they came with. Period.

    what level of trust can you put into the statement of such witnesses? Also, if the witnesses change the version of who prepared the signed statements, as it has been found in the SIT report and has been quoted by Mr. Mahapatra, can one believe the statements of such witnesses?

    The IO takes down the statement of a witness. That’s his job. That it is different from some other statement the witness has, or that the witness changes his story about who wrote that other statement, is unimportant, because that other statement is irrelevant.

    What level of trust is to be put into this witness’s statement is a matter for the IO to decide.

    Where the lie is in spelling all this out, I have no clue. But say it all you want.

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  5. What level of trust is to be put into this witness’s statement is a matter for the IO to decide.

    ->> Indeed, and they have decided that the witnesses were tutored and hence unreliable.

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  6. Consider these quotes:

    * The Special Investigation Team (SIT) … on Tuesday slammed reports that riots witnesses were tutored to give false evidence for exaggeration of the situation, by activists and organisations helping the victims.

    * [T]he Supreme Court termed the leak as a “betrayal of the faith reposed in those to whom the report was allowed access”.

    * “The alleged reported leaks appear to be inspired by dubious motives. I cannot confirm such claims. The act is highly condemnable,” [SIT chief] Raghavan said.

    * The SIT sources said the alleged leaks appear to have been based on statements of state police officials and “cannot be termed as findings of the report.”

    All from the Hindustan Times today (April 22), this report: Gujarat riots witnesses not tutored.

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  7. Regarding Pratap Bhanu Mehta, He is now trying to weasel word his way out of an embarrassing situation.

    I have been reading Mehta for quite long time. he is a quintessentially careerist establishment intellectual.

    This guy only cares for his own career, He is not right wing or left wing.

    People like Mehta will make noises against BJP one day and other day against Congress. The third day he will praise BJP and fouth will do the same thing for Congress.

    Establishments tend to love toadies like this.

    Let us remind ourselves what this jackass was peddling when Mahapatra’s ridiculous propaganda debuted.

    she ( Teesta) has also undermined the credibility of so-called secular interlocutors. It confirms the suspicion many have, that often those speaking in the name of secularism do not subscribe to the very values they claim to be fighting for: truth, justice, impartiality and the rule of law.

    This story should have been a big front page story. It deserves much more coverage and discussion. Of course, this is not the first time Teesta Setalvad’s role has come under the scanner.

    there has been a widespread perception in legal struggles that her advocacy sometimes makes the cause of justice more, not less difficult.

    The last one is particularly odious. Look at the language this guy uses. “there have been widespread perception”.

    People like Mehta don’t have the guts to say directly what they think. They hide behind passive voices. Lord knows who he means when he says there have been perceptions.

    The claim that Teesta’s advocacy makes delivery of Justice more difficult is disgusting. We are supposed to believe everything would be great if She shuts up.

    It is opportunists like this guy who delivered Germany to Nazis.

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  8. Dear AR,
    We welcome comments that are sharply critical of anybody and any position but would appreciate that you avoid unnecessary invective and name-calling. That does not really add anything to the argument as you will also readily agree.

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  9. Siddharth Varadarajan has recently written on The Hoot about media ethics in this context, wondering why, if Mahapatra had access to the full document (rather than selectively planted misleading sections which he, either gullibly or with malice aforethought, passed off as the entire report), there haven’t been more exclusives with all the details from him, three weeks down the line.

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  10. I am really happy to read this clarification by Dilip. The ugly side of TOI & ET has been made known to people. Keep on doing your good work, it will have it’s reward. We will always keep you in our prayers. Alex

    Like

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