Chin Banerjee


In an expression of solidarity with the movement of protest against mob lynchings in India organized under the banner of “NOT IN MY NAME,” the recently formed, “Indians Abroad for Plural India” organized a talk by visiting journalist, Rana Ayyub, in Vancouver on August 27.


The talk was presented under the title, “Developing Fascism in India: Gujarat Pogrom 2002 to Mob Lynchings 2017.”


Ayyub, who as an investigative journalist with Tehelka had gone undercover in 2010, posing as an American filmmaker with Hindutva sympathies, to interview bureaucrats and police officers in Gujarat in regard to the killings in the state following the pogrom of 2002, secretly recorded these interviews. Her resulting article, in which Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, was implicated in the genocide, was however, turned down for publication by Tehelka under political pressure. For the same reason, the book Ayyub produced based on these interviews, “The Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up” was repeatedly turned down by publishers, including one who accepted the book only to turn it down when it became clear that Modi would become the Prime Minister of India in 2014. Ayyub spoke about her sense of betrayal by the journalist and media community in not supporting her despite the enormous risks she had taken as a Muslim woman posing as a Hindu sympathizer of the Hindu nationalist agenda. The trauma had put her in a severe depression, out of which she emerged with the decision to publish her book independently. Ayyub pointed to the attacks on writers, journalists, and media that have followed Modi’s coming to power in 2014 as foreshadowed in the self-censorship she experienced from the media and expressed her solidarity with all who were facing repression.


Ayyub continues to face a virtual ban, limiting her ability to speak about her book. A book launch she had scheduled in Doha was cancelled due to pressure from the Indian government. In Vancouver, too, the request by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) for her to address the congregation at the Ross Street Gurdwara, the main Sikh temple with an illustrious history of resistance to oppression, was turned down. This, however, was not entirely surprising as the temple had honored Modi when he visited Vancouver in 2015 as an honored guest of the Stephen Harper government. Despite these obstacles Ayyub said that her book had sold more than a hundred thousand copies both in India and abroad.


Ayyub’s personal narrative is a significant part of the development of Hindutva fascism in India. As a child of nine in in 1993 she had her first experience of the terror faced by Muslims in India when she and her sister were threatened with abduction and assault during the pogroms against Muslims in Bombay after the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. She and her sister had been protected on that occasion by a Sikh family that took them in. Without the least concern with Islam till that point, the experience of being violently othered made her identify with political Islam. It also motivated her to take up journalism and particularly, investigative journalism. It would appear that her fearless work has its roots in the trauma and the threat faced by her and her fellow Muslims.


Two particularly interesting insights emerged from Ayyub’s response to questions: one that she had found caste playing an important role in the organization of violence against Muslims in Gujarat, in that Dalit police officers and bureaucrats were given the task of performing the actual acts of violence by upper caste officers who thought such work more appropriate to their caste. The second was that women were on the whole far more sympathetic to the victims than their husbands, sometimes telling the husband who excused their complicity by claiming helplessness that they could have done more.


Ayyub’s talk was followed by a walk from the Vancouver campus of Simon Fraser University where the talk was held to the Komagata Maru memorial on the waterfront. Speakers at the rally at the memorial underlined the significance of the memorial as a legacy for the South Asian diaspora: the 356 passengers on the ship that was denied the right to disembark comprised Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus who were united in claiming their right to be in Canada against the racist policies of the government determined to exclude them. The entire South Asian community in Vancouver had come together in their support. The elders had left a legacy of the fight for pluralism and justice. AIPI, which organized the walk and rally claimed that legacy in appealing to the diaspora to come together to uphold pluralism and justice in our homeland.

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