By Vallabh Nair in Mumbai
Zaheera Sheikh is slowly disappearing from the front pages of our English newspapers. Secularists are busy with the new sensation in Chennai with the Shankaracharya’s arrest. Even the crowds have thinned out of Additional Sessions Judge Abhay Thipsay’s court which is hearing the Best Bakery case. A visit to the Additional Sessions Court is nevertheless an education in itself. The proceedings will leave a lot of questions for the secularists and their NGO lobby. Zaheera Sheikh turning hostile for the second time was straight out of a Hindi movie climax when the good demonstratively wins over the evil.
But Zaheera is not alone; her sister Saira Banu had earlier maintained that she could not see anything beyond the thick quilt which obstructed her view on the events that took place in their bakery. After incisive questioning, she now admits to having seen her neighbours being killed. But Zaheera’s brothers have been less than reluctant to state things so clearly. And the Supreme Court has intervened to get to the bottom of it. But all these events only lead us to several uncomfortable questions.
First, is it true that Zaheera Sheikh has been coerced into giving false statements in the court by Teesta Setalvad and her NGO? Have innocent people been identified as killers because our secularists want their agenda of rendering justice to the Muslims their way.
Two, is there any corroborative evidence to prove the culpability of the people identified by Zaheera Sheikh and other witnesses? Is the whole case dependent only on the statements of the victims who seem to be blowing hot and cold, turn by turn?
Three, most importantly, accusations of corruption have been levelled against Zaheera Sheikh and her brothers in the media, with several stories being planted on how money has changed hands to change Zaheera’s testimony. Well, why did the media not ask the same question of corruption when Zaheera first turned her testimony around at the press conference in Mumbai with the NGOs in tow? The NGOs also could have bought over Zaheera. Is coercing witnesses into giving false testimony and implicating innocent people with full knowledge also not a travesty that courts should take action against?
There is much made out of the five-star facilities provided by the Gujarat government when she went back to her state. But everyone seems to deliberately ignore the fact that when she came to Mumbai and held her first press conference along with Ms Setalvad and Javed Akthar, the venue was also a star hotel. Who defrayed the bills then? Was that accounted for? The media makes selective charges according to its sectarian agenda.
Public Prosecutor Manjula Rao seemed indignant at the way Saira Banu replied, ‘‘I don’t know,’’ to her questions on Tuesday. She told the judge that the witnesses have been tutored to reply that way! One will also get indignant at the way Zaheera and other witnesses were tutored by Teesta Setalvad and her NGO to answer questions from the press during the first press conference.
Whenever the NGO or its members are asked these questions, the strategy is to obfuscate the issue by launching a diatribe against the Gujarat government. But the point is that the Gujarat government is not in the picture at all. Either Zaheera Sheikh is a liar-she lied the first time when she came to Mumbai assisted by the NGOs, and she has lied even now when she has gone back on her testimony the second time. Or that she is as white as a lily for she can only speak the truth. But the NGOs and the media do not look at it like that. When she first turned hostile she was commended for her courage and fortitude. She had become the darling of the press, but when she turned around again, she became a villain, a liar, unreliable and corrupt. What they say about running with the hare and hunting with the hound…