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Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics

Letters

Zahira Shaikh: ‘Victim’ of Justice

W
hile we, the members of women’s groups and concerned citizens in India, welcome the Supreme Court’s interventions in matters relating to the carnage in Gujarat, we are dismayed at its stringent verdict on March 8, 2006 that pronounced one-year imprisonment to Zahira Shaikh for having committed contempt of court. Zahira is not a routine hostile witness; she is primarily an injured witness, who has been used as a pawn in the unfolding drama of state politics. While the court has punished Zahira, it has not passed similar stringent orders against politicians like Madhu Srivastava, who intimidated Zahira to change her testimony even though the fact has been brought on record. We are dismayed that those who systematically planned and implemented heinous crimes have gone scot-free because the law enforcement system failed to implicate them with enough evidence. In the end, it is the vulnerable victim who has had to bear a criminal sentence.

Zahira may not have been perceived to be a “good victim” by many, but this does not mean that she should go to jail since she could not bear the multiple burdens of courage and truth placed solely upon her against impossible odds. Nor does her “perjury” erase the fact that she has survived unspeakable violence. Even though Zahira has repeatedly changed her statements, and therefore the court has felt aggrieved, we must remember that she is a survivor first and foremost and her “hostility” to the prosecution is a product of surviving in a highly hostile and insecure environment. The interests of society lie in both upholding the dignity of the judiciary as well as providing substantive justice for survivors, such as Zahira. It is in the larger interest of society that we should ensure that the instigators of such terrible violence are punished in future and the fate of Zahira is not repeated. In the interests of substantive justice, we believe that the Supreme Court should take action against Madhu Srivastava and the political powers responsible for the violence in Gujarat in 2002, and that this intent be made public.

SAHELI, SAMA, NIRANTAR, UMA CHAKRAVARTI, FARAH NAQVI PRATIKSHA BAXI, AND 10 OTHER INDIVIDUALS

New Delhi

Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics

W
e the undersigned are concerned about the disturbing events that have been taking place at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune. The present crisis has serious adverse repercussions for the institute’s reputation and future. The long-term implication for the students is of particular concern. The institute is a precious national asset, a heritage institution of a unique kind, and its reputation is a serious matter for the entire academic community. We believe that these problems need to be probed and resolved by an independent body.

In the last few years, the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics made news for good reasons. In 1993, the government of India declared the institute a deemed university. In 2003, the National Assessments and Accreditation Council team visited the institute and awarded it A+ status, an endorsement of its commitment to raising the quality of its teaching and research. Since March 2004, under the directorship of Ajit Sinha, the institute made rapid strides again. Its infrastructure improved dramatically, course offerings went through major innovative changes, and it organised several high profile international and national conferences. 2005 was the Platinum Jubilee year of the institute. In February 2005, the president of India visited the institute as the chief guest at its convocation.

In September 2005, when Ajit Sinha went as a visiting scholar to the College de France, the joint director of the institute, Tirthankar Roy, assumed

(Continued on p 1140)

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Economic and Political Weekly March 18, 2006

Letters

(Continued from p 934)

the duties of the director, followingrules laid down in the memorandum of association of the institute.

Between October 2005 and January2006, dramatic changes took place inthe institute leadership. We understandthat these changes happened largely atthe behest of the institute’s trustees, the Servants of India Society (SIS). Thoughtrustees of the institute, the SIS does not either finance the institute or manage its administration directly. Theinstitute, which is a deemed university,functions according to a memorandumof association, prepared followingguidelines supplied by the UGC. InAugust 2005, the SIS elected a newpresident. Within a day of assumingoffice, the newly elected presidentstarted criticising the work of Sinha and Roy. There were attempts by theSIS, which is not an academic body, tointerfere in the academic administration of the institute. The board of management was reconstituted drastically.Several distinguished members of theboard, who had served the institute ably, were summarily removed beforetheir terms were over. Many major pastdecisions were revoked. Roy was forcedto resign from the additional charge ofdirectorship. He was also removedfrom the office of joint director. Mostdisturbing of all, the proceedings oftwo faculty selection committees wererevoked. We understand that Sinha and Roy now also face “enquiry” andharassment.

These events are far too serious to be ignored by the larger academiccommunity. First, we are shocked tohear that charges were brought against two individuals who are known to be upright, honest, progressive, and menwith impeccable reputation in theirrespective fields. Second, we areconcerned that the leadership changewill cause a setback to the course initiated by Ajit Sinha. And, third, theGokhale Institute has in the pastwitnessed unsavoury episodes ofleadership change. With every suchepisode the institute risks beingbranded as an unsafe place forindependent-minded scholars.

R M HONAVAR, NARENDRA JADHAV,

K L KRISHNA, SUJATA PATEL, PARTHA SEN,

SURESH TENDULKAR, A VAIDYANATHAN,

M GOVINDA RAO, VIJAY L KELKAR,

AMARESH BAGCHI, MIHIR RAKSHIT,

ROMAR CORREA, JEAN DREZE,

RRADHAKRISHNA AND OTHERS.

New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai

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    Economic and Political Weekly March 18, 2006

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