Trust is a word that has suddenly changed – if not lost – its meaning in Gujarat after the 2002 communal riots. At least, it looked like this when former residents of the Gulberg housing society, for whom activist Teesta Setalvad has been fighting for the past decade, accused her of “fraud, cheating and misuse of foreign funds”. And, as expected, the crime branch of the Ahmedabad police registered an FIR against Setalvad, her husband Javed Anand and Tanvir Jafri, son of Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the Gulberg massacre along with 68 other residents.
Human rights activists and Setalvad’s supporters have described the FIR as the Gujarat government’s “vindictive action meant to harass activists”.
The FIR, based on complaints lodged by former residents of the society, says that “despite collecting foreign donations of Rs. 63 lakh in the account of Citizens for Justice and Peace and Rs. 88 lakh in the account of Sabrang Trust, nothing has been passed on to the members of the society”.
In 2007-08, Setalvad and others mooted the idea of building a memorial and museum at the Gulberg society. The Sabrang website gives some details and idea of the project, which was subsequently abandoned.
“The Gulberg Museum of Resistance project will be undertaken by Sabrang Trust and CJP and will include survivors on the advisory board. Rooted in 2002, the project will cover the many instances of mass crimes that have dogged us as a nation. The genocidal violence of Gujarat 2002 will be extensively mapped: the Godhra train burning, Naroda Gaon and Patiya, Odh, Sardarpura, Vadodara, Panchmahal, Dahod.”
While giving details about the project, the website also asked for contributions from its supporters and the public. After the complaint, Setalvad, in her letter to Ahmedabad crime branch joint commissioner of police AK Sharma, clarified that “till November 2012, Sabrang Trust had received a total donation of Rs. 4,10,285 from donors within India and Rs. 50,000 from one individual overseas for the proposed dream museum.”
“This is a matter between our donors and the trust which we will address when a final decision on the issue is made,” said the letter signed by her and other trustees of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and Sabrang Trust. Interestingly, former residents who have complained against Setalvad, alleged that neither Sabrang nor CJP have any locus standi to raise funds from anywhere without their consent. “Why was the money raised when all members were not in agreement?” an angry member asked. However, according to the trustees of CJP and Sabrang, the idea of building a memorial had to be finally abandoned when real estate prices spiralled. “A formal resolution of the society was passed after this was conveyed to them, leaving the members free to sell off their properties as per law,” the trustees said.