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Art for a cause

Print edition : Apr 20, 2012 T+T-

An art exhibition in Mumbai to raise funds for Teesta Setalvad's Citizens for Justice and Peace is a tribute to her movement.

in Mumbai

To sustain any movement on a long-term basis, commitment and a fair amount of funds are essential, particularly when there are scores of legal cases to handle. The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a citizens' initiative that has striven hard to battle injustice and promote a culture of human rights, has plenty of the former but not enough of the latter. The lack of adequate funds has been one of the many challenges the CJP faces.

In order to raise funds for the CJP, 80 of India's leading artists have come together and contributed their works for an exhibition called Art for Humanity. Apart from artists Arpana Caur, Nilima Sheikh, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Atul Dodiya, Anju Dodiya, Anjolie Ela Menon, N. Pushpamala, Kishor Shinde, Mithu Sen, Shilpa Gupta and Arunanshu Chowdhury, photographers Pablo Bartholomew, Raghu Rai, Gauri Gill and Ram Rahman are participating. The exhibition will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April 6 to 9 at the Coomaraswamy Hall in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum), Mumbai.

Almost every well-known Indian artist is represented in this exhibition, says Teesta Setalvad, secretary, CJP. The aim is to evolve a sustainable and strategic fund-raising initiative to ensure a support base for the CJP's pioneering work in the areas of legal rights and social justice. There was an overwhelming response from the artists when we broached this idea.

Fight for justice

The CJP has been putting up a consistent fight to win justice for victims of communal attacks since the 1992-93 Babri Masjid riots. The CJP's activities are mainly concentrated in the western region. In recent times, it has been in the limelight for its relentless legal battles against the perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.

Freedom to dissent and a life free of discrimination have been the CJP's mission mantras. Tenacity and purpose have guided its work, be it in the promotion of justice in Gujarat or a life free from terror in Mumbai or Kashmir, says a statement from the CJP.

According to the CJP, it is the only sustained legal rights initiative supporting the struggle for justice by the survivors of the Gujarat pogrom.

The Godhra tragedy was deliberately manipulated by those at the helm of the State government to unleash organised violence in 300 locations spread over 19 (of the 25) districts in the State. In three days' time, over 2,500 lives had been lost, minority property worth over Rs.4,000 crore systematically destroyed and over 19,000 homes burnt. Women and children, all Muslim, were brutally targeted. A decade down, after arguably the worst-ever instance of State-sponsored mass communal crimes post-Independence, we still ask: Will the wealth of evidence be matched by the rigour of investigation? Will the will to prosecute surmount political considerations? Will the Indian system throw a spotlight on what surely must have been its darkest hour? Will we see the end of impunity?' Teesta Setalvad asked.

The CJP's efforts saw some success in November last year when 31 people were convicted for burning alive a houseful of Muslims in Sardarpura during the riots. This is the highest number of convictions in a case of communal violence since 1947, says the CJP. It is hopeful that the other eight cases being investigated will also result in conviction. Teesta Setalvad says justice is being done, although painfully and slowly. The role of administrators and policemen in the pogrom is being investigated, she says.

The high-profile Zakia Jafri case is another instance of the CJP's protracted battles. Ehsan Jafri, a former Member of Parliament, was brutally killed along with 35 others by a rampaging mob in Gulberg Society. The CJP, along with the Jafri family, especially Zakia Jafri, the widow of Ehsan Jafri, has been fighting a relentless battle to ensure punishment for the perpetrators of the crime. This is the only case in which Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of colluding with officials and allowing the massacre to take place. Modi was in fact summoned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the case. This case was tossed between the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court several times, but the CJP and the Jafris have refused to give up.

The CJP has tried to ensure justice in other areas as well. In 2003, the CJP filed a public interest petition (PIL) seeking compensation for the riot victims, when the Modi government cynically returned part of the compensation money granted by the Central government. A detailed State-wide survey of over 18,000 affected families was organised through vast community support by the CJP to press claims for proper compensation again.

The CJP claims that its intervention ensured that the compensation for loss of life was increased to Rs.5 lakh a head. But we are still trying to convince the court about payment of compensation to victims of police firing and to victims of gender violence and rape, Teesta Setalvad said. Additionally, the CJP has been trying to locate missing people and the bodies of victims that have not been found.

It has also striven to ensure a witness protection programme wherein victim-survivors and eyewitnesses receive protection for the duration of the trials and beyond. The CJP has also intervened to ensure a convivial atmosphere in the courtrooms through the installation of closed circuit televisions (CCTVs).

Challenges

Challenges are aplenty in this kind of work. There have been threats to Teesta Setalvad's life and cases have been cooked up against her. Witnesses have turned hostile. Verdicts in the cases have often gone against the victims. The SIT refused to accept testimonies and evidence from the CJP.

Teesta Setalvad says: The battle for sanity and reason against the politics of hatred is what the CJP and its sister concerns and older institutions (especially Communalism Combat) stand for. Furthermore, the right to life and the right to a life with dignity and without discrimination are fundamental values on which modern republics have emerged. Yet violation of these fundamental freedoms continue unabated and our region, despite its unique and varied history, remains afflicted with violence and conflict. The politics of division and hatred is a specific and corrosive threat to equality and dignity.

The CJP has been sustained by individual donations collected from within the country (since 2002) and, since 2010, a partial grant from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations. A statement from the CJP acknowledges that the artists' community has been its staunch supporter since 1993 and that the support multiplied manifold after the Gujarat pogrom. Regarding the exhibition, the CJP says that it is honoured and proud that this vibrant community of artists has decided to stand up and build a sustainable platform with us.

Artist Arpana Caur told Frontline: I happily gave one of my paintings, if it helps the cause. I had done a series called World Goes On' in 1984 after the massacre of Sikhs [in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination]. I know what it is to confront death in such a manner. For this exhibition I gave a Guru Nanak painting because he symbolises so much. Nanak always said: God created everyone and all things for all people', so there is a significance in giving a painting of him. Teesta gives so unstintingly, and is a crusader who has dedicated her whole life to this cause. We should help where we can.