Sabrang Communications Private Limited

Sabrang Communications Private Limited is a Mumbai, India based organization run by Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, along with a magazine called Communalism Combat.[1]  The organization seeks to “to provide information on, [analyze] and expose the machinations of communal politics in India, on the subcontinent and abroad”[2]  Ostensibly, Sabrang stands for “for equal respect to all religions but [is] opposed to the cynical manipulation of faith in the pursuit of power”[3] and is therefore “opposed to both majority and minority communalism.”[4]  However, it appears that Sabrang is absolutely infatuated with ‘Hindu Communalism’ and has dedicated itself to a ruthless pursuit of Hindus in the wake of the Gujarat riots.  In 2003, Setalvad, along with Admiral L. Ram Das, received the Staines International Award For Religious Harmony by The International Council of Evangelical Churches for having “championed the cause of secular India and have been heroic promoters of religious harmony”.[5] The award was established in 2000 and was awarded for the first time on 11th April 2000, to Archbishop Allen de Lastic of New Delhi, (India) the President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India and Dr. John Dayal of (India) journalist and National Convenor (sic) of United Christians Forum for Human Rights[6]  The award was set up in memory of Australian Missionary Graham Staines who was burnt down along with his two sons by a mob while on a mission in a tribal area.  John Dayal is a known Christian activist who routinely demonizes Hindus and Hinduism.  He is also the Secretary-General of the All India Christian Council (AICC)[7], which is “the largest alliance in India of Church bodies and Christian entities that are actively carrying out Christ’s sacrificial mission.”[8]  The AICC also works with noted anti-Hindu organizations like the Dalit Freedom Network[9], whose views were discussed in Section 2.08.

Setalvad’s biography on the website of the International Council of Evangelical Christians highlights her obsession with the ‘Hindu Right’:  “From the late eighties, the visible emergence of the fanatic, Hindu right became frighteningly visible…Hate-speech and hate-writing, more and more, was published in the mainline media without a word of editorial censure. Monitoring this kind of hate-politics has been my professional concern and commitment over the past decade.”[10]   Similarly, Setalvad’s decision to launch Communalism Combat is also explained: “The experience of 1992-93 [the Ram Janmabhumi/Babri Masjid riots] led to a dissatisfaction with the ‘mainstream’ Indian media that tackled ‘tragedies’, ‘sensations’ or ‘communal crises’ only when they happened. There is little inclination to examine processes and the fallout of major social upheavals and trends. Hence the decision to launch Communalism Combat along with colleague, Javed Anand.”[11]  So, Setalvad felt that the entire Indian media machinery was against the Muslims in India during the 1992-1993 riots and Setalvad’s magazine would act as their sole voice.  Furthermore, according to the site, Setalvad’s “research has involved exposing the findings of judicial commission riots post-Independence that reveal a strong anti-minority mindset and a collusion of Hindu fanatic parties.”[12]  From all of this, it is quite clear that Setalvad’s sole focus is to highlight the ‘human rights violations’ against only Muslims, women and Dalits by ‘fanatic, upper caste Hindus’ who run the entire Indian government.

Sabrang also started KHOJ, a ‘secular’ education program for kids in Mumbai.  Aman, a project of KHOJ is projected as an “olive branch”[13] of KHOJ to link kids from India and Pakistan.  In November 2002, following complaints made by individuals to the Government of India, Setalvad removed a controversial logo (shown on right) that showed a mutilated picture of India against a strikingly accurate picture of Pakistan.[14]  Curiously, the logo, which was on their website for five years, was created by a student at Bombay International School, one of the schools that host the Aman project.  The logo annexes the Kashmir part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and merges it into Pakistan.  Parts of Northeast India are also missing.  And, Pakistan is show as a much bigger country than India.  “Since August, 1994, Teesta Setalvad and other consultant volunteers — have been engaged in a weekly, one-period [program] with students of standard V, VI & VII of the Bombay International School.”[15]  So, in eight years since the involvement in the project at the school, Sabrang has been unsuccessful in teaching fifth, sixth or seventh grade Indian kids how to draw a visibly accurate map of India.

Sabrang’s Setalvad and Anand, facing a serious financial crunch, appealed to their readers in the US to donate to them around $20,000 through the SINGH Foundation,[16] whose activities were discussed in the previous section, because US based donations are tax-exempt and can also be matched or multiplied via corporate matching programs.  Sabrang was also the co-author of the biased report on the Indian American charity IDRF, along with FOIL and France based SACW, the organization started by FOIL member Harsh Kapoor.[17]

In 1999, Setalvad’s Communalism Combat accepted about $1.5 Crores from political parties such as the Congress, CPI, CPM and about ten prominent individuals[18] to run a series of massive ad campaigns against the BJP and labeling them as ‘Hindu fanatics’ that are highly biased against women.  Speaking to media, Setalvad shared her thoughts on the campaign:  “But we can say that the ad campaign was able to point out some of the ideological precepts of the Sangh Parivar. We were able to create awareness of the RSS and the freedom movement, the RSS and Gandhi, the RSS and Kashmir, about Vajpayee’s role in the freedom struggle.”[19]  She even admitted that “[Sabrang has] been making political statements over the past six years”.[20]  This shows that Sabrang is politically involved with the Communist Parties as well as Congress and supports their ideological motivations.  Such stances puncture Sabrang’s credibility and image of objectivity.  Moreover, did Sabrang ever come out with ads against the Congress for its role in the 1984 Sikh Riots?  Or, did Sabrang ever publish an ad in a West Bengal or Kerala newspaper blasting the Communist parties for their role in the Nandigram violence in 2007?  Some examples of killings by Communist party members are as follows:

Three persons were killed and dozens sustained bullet injuries after CPM cadres opened fire on two unarmed peace rallies [organized] by Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) on Saturday[21]

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s armed attempt to reclaim Nandigram ran into waves of resistance fronted by women, leading to the deaths of at least 14 people in police firing….Ward master of the Tamluk hospital, Atal Behari Jana, said 11 bodies, including that of a woman, bore bullet injuries. Most injuries were either in the stomach or chest [22]

In contrast to the mass outrage expressed towards ‘Hindu extremism’ or ‘Right Wing extremism’, Setalvad has been relatively mute on the Nandigram issue.  Is it because she is politically and ideologically aligned with the Communist parties and is therefore complicit with these types of rabid human rights violations?  Or, is it because this issue doesn’t expose ‘Hindu fascism’ and is therefore not important enough for Sabrang’s business?

Setalvad and the Cooking Up of Facts

Setalvad has been accused of manufacturing lies and exaggerating scenarios related to the 2002 Gujarat riots. In 2009, “[referring] to another instance that exposed the Citizens for Justice and Peace’s much ‘trumpeted’ charges, [Senior Advocate Rohtagi] said the [Special Investigation Team] found untrue allegation about a gangrape of a pregnant woman Kauser Bano, whose stomach was allegedly pierced by sword and her foetus (sic) killed.”[23]  “The Special Investigation Team was led by former CBI Director RK Raghavan and is comprised of former DGP CB Satpathy and three senior IPS officers — Geetha Johri, Shivanand Jha and Ashish Bhatia. It had been asked to do the enquiry into post-Godhra riot incidents in Godhra, Gulbarg Society, Naroda Gaon, Naroda Patiya and Sardarpura.”[24]

In 2010, Sashikant Patil, one of the individuals accused in the 2002 Gujarat riots and who has been in jail since then, approached the Supreme Court to prosecute Setalvad on counts of perjury.  “In the application, Patil alleged Setalvad, who heads the NGO, Citizen for Peace and Justice, cooked up the story and made an alleged rape victim of the riot to file a false affidavit before the apex court, which she denied in her statement before SIT on May 20, 2009, that she was raped.”[25]  Another coverage provides the following details of the same case:

The incident was of Naroda Gaon, where an alleged rape victim filed an affidavit on November 15, 2003, in the Supreme Court and provided a detailed account of her agony and injustice. The affidavit was filed by Nanoomiya Rasoolmiya Malek, the rape victim’s neighbour (sic) who claimed to be an eyewitness.  But later in her statement to SIT on May 20, 2008, the victim denied being raped and disclosed that Teesta took her signature on the affidavits but did not reveal to her the contents. The eyewitness Malek too charged Teesta of tampering with his statement. He said, ‘At the time of drafting the affidavit, I informed Teesta Setalvad, who runs the NGO, not to mention the said incorrect fact in my affidavit and I strongly objected against the same.’[26]

In April of 2011, one of the key witnesses in the Best Bakery case of the Gujarat riots alleged to the Mumbai high court that she was “lured and misguided by social activist Teesta Setalvad to give false testimony against 17 accused, of whom a Mumbai special court has convicted nine to life imprisonment.”[27]  In her petition, Yasmeenbano Shaikh said that she made a “false deposition against the accused and identified them falsely at the behest and advice of Teesta Setalvad only in the false hope that the social activist would help her financially.”[28]

Setalvad, along with her NGO Citizens for Peace and Justice and the NGO SAHMAT (which is headed by Shabnam Hashmi), lashed out at the media and called the reports of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) findings “irresponsible reportage”[29] and that it was “NOT [emphasis original] a note prepared by SIT”[30].  Not surprisingly, this rebuttal and other press releases prepared by Setalvad, SAHMAT and others, were hosted on website of South Asia Citizens’ Web (SACW), which is headed by FOIL member Harsh Kapoor.

Dhananjay Mahapatra of Times of India, responding to the charges by Setalvad, then published a subsequent rebuttal to Setalvad’s claims and showed that his coverage was based on SIT’s findings and that the newspaper had a copy of the report.   Mahapatra, quoting directly from the SIT report, provides various examples:

Page 9 of the SIT report on the Gulbarga Society carnage on February 28, 2002, says: ‘Insistence of 19 witnesses to take on record their signed statements which according to them were prepared by Smt Teesta Setalvad and advocate Tirmiji’’ – the reference here is to witnesses giving signed computerised (sic) statements which were not accepted by the investigating officer (IO) as under Section 161 the officer is required to write the statement of witnesses after interrogating them personally

The report also says (page eight) the allegation about the then Ahmedabad police commissioner C P Pandey visiting Gulbarga Society at 10.30am and assuring police protection to Muslims but not following it up was wrong as ‘he was proved to have gone to Sola Civil Hospital to take care of the dead bodies of Sabarmati Express arson victims.’[31]

Thus, as seen from the above examples, Setalvad has been seriously accused of bending facts and of manufacturing lies to grossly exaggerate the incidents of the Gujarat riots.  Furthermore, she faces charges of lying to the court, which if valid, may sentence her for years in prison if not for lifetime.  In addition, she has attempted to malign independent media reporters that have brought stories against her, as seen from the example of the Times of India reporter.

On Friday, May 27, 2011, SACW, the website run by FOIL member Harsh Kapoor, posted a Press Release, along with a personal appeal from Teesta Setalvad, announcing the “Formation of Committee for the Defence (sic) of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat”[32].  According to the press release, “The Committee would undertake appropriate actions and activities to see that neither Teesta Setalvad nor anybody else is victimized for working for the cause of justice. The committee would also defend the human rights of vulnerable sections, and would include, but not be limited to, monitoring cases slapped on Teesta Setalvad, to stand in solidarity with her, to bring out detailed facts before the people pertaining to this selective victimization of Teesta Setalvad and those fighting for the cause of justice in Gujarat.”[33]  In other words, this committee plans to counter findings by independent bodies such as the Special Investigation Team and allege the hand of ‘communal forces’ behind this evidence.  Moreover, judged by the angry tone of the Press Release, the committee will undoubtedly use every means, political, ideological or otherwise, to exert its influence in support of Setalvad.

The committee comprises of the following individuals, among others: Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer (who is the chairman of the NGO CSSS, discussed previously), Romila Thapar (the Marxist historian discussed in the report earlier), Irfan Habib (another prominent Marxist historian), Ram Puniyani (also associated with the NGO CSSS and FOIL), and Irfan Engineer (also part of the NGO CSSS).[34]  One wonders why historians like Thapar and Habib are on a committee involved in a legal battle for a human rights activist. It will also be intriguing to observer whether the SINGH Foundation and other FOIL organizations raise money in the US to assist Setalvad in this legal battle.


[1] http://www.sabrang.com/contactus.htm, accessed June 23, 2011

[2] http://www.sabrang.com/aboutus.htm, accessed June 23, 2011

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.[2]

[5] “Staines International Award For Religious Harmony”, http://www.evangelicalcouncil.org/news_events1.html,  accessed June 23, 2011

[7] See contact information on the press release entitled “Hate campaign in run-up to Narmada Kumbh creates scare among MP Christians” dated February 4, 2011,  http://indianchristians.in/news/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=4674, accessed June 23, 2011

[9] Ibid. See section called “Composition and Affiliation”

[10] Ibid.[6]

[11] Ibid.[6]

[12] Ibid.[6]

[13] Ibid.[6]

[14] See the section titled “Child-Education, Sabrang-style: the Cartographic Prodigies of the Bombay International School”. http://www.geocities.com/charcha_2000/essays/sabrang_co.html, accessed June 23, 2011

[15] Ibid.

[16] Varsha Bhosle, “Front Lines”, http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/nov/29varsha.htm, November 29, 1999,   accessed June 23, 2011

[17] See Copyright notice under the report heading “The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva”, http://www.proxsa.org/newsflash/index.html, accessed June 23, 2011.

[18]Meher Pestonji,  “Anyone involved in secular action is going to be targeted”, http://web.archive.org/web/20021217191815/http://www.humanscapeindia.net/humanscape/hs1199/hs11997t.htm, accessed June 25, 2011

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.[18]

[21] Rakeeb Hossain and Drimi Chaudhuri, “CPM cadres kill 3 in Nandigram”, Hindustan Times, online edition, November 10, 2007,  http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/westbengal/CPM-cadres-kill-3-in-Nandigram/Article1-257122.aspx, accessed June 25, 2011

[22] “Red-hand Buddha: 14 killed in Nandigram re-entry bid”, March 14, 2007,  http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070315/asp/frontpage/story_7519166.asp, accessed June 25, 2011

[23] Abraham Thomas, “Gujarat riot myths busted”, http://dailypioneer.com/169490/Gujarat-riot-myths-busted.html, April 14, 2009,  accessed June 23, 2011

[24] Desh, “Pseudo-Secularism and Teesta Setalvad’s Cooking up Skills”, April 27, 2009, http://www.drishtikone.com/node/8047, accessed June 23, 2011

[25] “Guj riots accused moves SC for prosecuting Teesta for perjury”, October 18, 2010, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/guj-riots-accused-moves-sc-for-prosecuting-teesta-for-perjury/699232/0, Indian Express, online edition,  accessed June 23, 2011

[26] Abraham Thomas, “Punish Teesta for perjury, Godhra accused tells SC”, October 19, 2010,  http://www.dailypioneer.com/290445/Punish-Teesta-for-perjury-Godhra-accused-tells-SC.html, accessed June 23, 2011

[27] Hetal Vyas, “Gujarat’s Best Bakery case: Teesta forced me to lie, says Witness”, April 30, 2011, Times of India, online edition, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-04-30/india/29490452_1_special-court-zaheera-shaikh-life-imprisonment, accessed June 24, 2011

[28] Ibid.

[29] See “CJP’s Rebuttal on Media Coverage of Supreme Court Proceedings”, April 13, 2009,  http://www.sacw.net/article827.html, accessed June 28, 2011

[30]Ibid.

[31] Dhananjay Mahapatra, “Report based on SIT findings”, April 16, 2009, Times of India, online edition,   http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Report-based-on-SIT-findings/articleshow/4407437.cms, accessed June 28, 2011.

[32] “Formation of Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat – Press Release”, May 23, 2011, http://www.sacw.net/article2113.html, accessed July 19, 2011

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.[32]

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