Teesta Setalvad

Prizewinner 2003 together with Ibn Abdur Rehman

Teesta Setalvad, born in 1962, started working for mainstream media in 1983, after graduating from Bombay University in philosophy. Right from the start, she concentrated on socio-political issues and on the margins of society. When reporting on issues such as drought and the politics of water distribution, urban housing and poverty, she found that questions of political responsibility and gender-related discrimination became increasingly important to her.

As a result she became active with the "Bombay Union of Journalists" and was one of the founders of the "Women in the Media Committee", a focus for women in the media raising both job-related concerns and addressing issues of gender-sensitivity in writing and reporting on women's issues. The group, for example contributed to a nation-wide protest. against the burning alive of a young widow and analysed the media reaction to this event. A further successful campaign was the struggle against discrimination by the Indian navy against female journalists.

From the late eighties on, Teesta Setalvad has been particularly concentrating on monitoring the mainstream media, especially their reporting on the hate-politics against other religions perpetrated by the Hindu right., and on biased action by the state and its police. After the "Bharatiya Janata Party" (BJP) came to power in the centre and in three Indian states, it became obvious that the religious minorities, women and Dalits ("untouchables") were immediate targets of violence and terror. Growing concern move the committed journalist and some of her colleagues to form a group called "Journalists Against Communalism" and "Sabrang" (all colours). The group drew public attention to the violations of the principles of objective journalism in Indian mainstream media and organised protest action.

In 1992 and 1993, after the destruction of the Babir Mosque in the small Northern Indian town of Ayodhya, hate politics in India culminated. In this time, Ms Setalvad exposed cases of flagrant discrimination by the police against minorities. In the light of these experiences and increasingly dissatisfied with Indian mainstream media reporting on these events, without asking for root causes, Ms Setalvad decided to launch "Communalism Combat" together with her colleague Javed Anand. The journal acts as a watchdog on larger mainstream media and aims at analysing underlying causes of events.

Apart from running the magazine, Teesta Setalvad is active as an educator and scientific researcher on education issues. She is particularly concerned with the development of a non-biased, non-discriminatory curriculum and runs the project KHOJ "Education for a plural India". This project concentrates on working out alternative books for a changed curriculum, on revitalising the teaching of history and tries to foster a deeper understanding of human rights and social issues. It suggests radical changes in the structure and organisation of the school as an institution.

Teesta Setalvad lectures regularly on human rights at regional and national training centres for the Indian police force. She is an outspoken peace activist, secretary general of the human rights association "People’s Union for Human Rights" (PUHR), courageously fighting against nuclear armament of India and Pakistan. She also pioneered the following projects: "AMAN", a South Asian study and student exchange programme, and "Peacepals", a programme of letter-writing between children from India and Pakistan. Ms Setalvad who is 41 years old today, also belongs to the core group of the "Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy".

In recent years, Ms Setalvad, a Hindu married to a Muslim, faced a series of threats, both to her life and to the journal she and her husband bring out. Her untiring commitment to the struggle against prejudice and discrimination has been honoured with numerous national and international awards.

[Sept. 2003]

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