Thursday, Nov 13, 2003
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By Kalpana Sharma
Mallika Sarabhai addressing a press conference in Mumbai on Wednesday. Photo: Vivek Bendre
"I stand here as an Indian who is desperately trying to keep faith in the Constitution. Why am I being crucified with lies because people don't have the time to listen to the truth," she asked.
On October 18, a First Information Report was filed by Manushi Shah alleging that Dr. Sarabhai and the Darpana Dance Academy that she runs had cheated her by not taking her to the United States on a dance tour. In the FIR, according to Dr. Sarabhai, Ms. Shah acknowledges that the money she had paid for the tour barring the non-refundable fee of Rs. 20,000 and her passport had been returned to her. But the cancellation of the tour because of the rejection of visas by the U.S. Consulate, she alleges, had prevented her from pursuing a "bright future in America", a statement that suggests she planned to use the tour to stay on illegally in that country. "Why am I accused of not aiding and abetting a crime," asked Dr. Sarabhai. "Why is suddenly the senior-most prosecutor put on this case? Everyone is silent. Is this what we have come to in a country we have the audacity to call the largest democracy in the world?"
The facts of the case, Dr. Sarabhai explained, concerned a tour that the Darpana Academy had facilitated on behalf of UNESCO and under the aegis of CIOFF (Centre International pour les Organisation des Festival de Folklore). Darpana's folk section selects and manages amateur dancers and musicians for a non-professional tour under the CIOFF programme. The artistes were expected to pay for their own ticket and meet other travel expenses, apart from paying a non-refundable fee of Rs. 20,000 to cover their training. The tour that Ms. Manushi Shah was on was supposed to travel to Brazil and the U.S. While visas for the former came through, questions were raised about some of the participants by the U.S. consulate and their visas were rejected. Dr. Sarabhai decided to go ahead with the Brazil tour, but the participants refused and, therefore, the tour was cancelled. Also, although all these events occurred in April this year, the FIR was filed in October.
In the weeks since this happened, Dr. Sarabhai said, not one of the three leading Gujarati newspapers had asked her for her comments. "They only report what the public prosecutor says... not that the judge reprimanded him or what our lawyer says. I am delighted to read of the support given to Mr. N. Ram of The Hindu. But shouldn't something be done about the people who ruin this profession," she asked. "Doctors take an oath. Don't journalists take an oath to tell the other side of the story," she asked.
Dr. Sarabhai has been granted anticipatory bail on a personal bond of Rs.1 lakh. She has had to surrender her passport, apply for regular bail within 30 days and has been ordered not to travel outside the State barring this visit.
Coming out in her support, writer and columnist Shobha De also shared her "chilling" experience in Ahmedabad last year. She said she was invited to a function where she was to be felicitated. The elite of Ahmedabad were present. She took the chance to speak her mind on how disturbed she felt about the events in Gujarat post-Godhra and openly criticised the Narendra Modi Government. "The meeting had to be broken up because people began to shout and abuse me. Worse still, when I asked some of them whether they would pick up a knife or a gun or an axe and kill their neighbour, I was horrified to see the number of educated people who said they would. There isn't just one Narendra Modi, there are thousands of them and some of them don't have a name and a face," she said.
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