Dolores Chew


As part of her Canadian tour the famed and very courageous award-winning journalist and author Rana Ayyub (Gujarat Files: anatomy of a cover up) came to Montreal.


She spoke at a local gurudwara on 6th August and in a public programme on the 7th. The latter was organized by CERAS (Centre sur l’asie du sud) in collaboration with Alliance for Pluralism in South Asian and Garam Masala. It was held at SAWCC (South Asian Women’s Community Centre).


A testament to Ayyub’s fame and courage and also deep concern for the situation in India today was that, despite it being the summer vacation period the room at SAWCC was packed and people spilled out into the corridor! The audience was inter-generational – some who lived through, remember and were active during the dark days of the Emergency in India and younger people who are cutting their political teeth in anti-racist work, pro-migrant activism and pro-pluralism in South Asia. There were also people of non-South Asian origin who are concerned about the situation in South Asia.


Her presentation at SAWCC was entitled DEVELOPMENT of FASCISM in INDIA: Gujarat genocide 2002 to mob lynchings 2017. Ayyub told the audience about how she came from a family where there was political awareness, her writer father being active in the Progressive Writers’ Association. But her real political awakening was when she experienced first-hand the violence of communalism during the riots and killings that occurred at the time of the destruction of the Babri masjid in 1992. She and her sister were then children.   A Sikh neighbour saved her family. This Sikh neighbour also told them about had happened to Sikhs during the massacre of 1984 which followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by a Sikh bodyguard.


A running thread of Ayyub’s during her presentation was is that if those who are guilty are not brought to justice, the use of violence for political ends continues. She pointed out how because those responsible for the 1984 massacre of Sikhs went unpunished, it meant that 1992 could happen. And the fact that those responsible for 1992 went unpunished meant that the Gujarat genocide of 2002 happened. She pointed out how whatever justice has been gained by the victims of the 2002 genocide was down to the victims and their supporters who have worked with courage and tenacity, in the face of official resistance, intimidation and threats.


When she undertook her undercover work that resulted in her book, Ayyub was working for Tehelka, an Indian newsmagazine known for investigative journalism and sting operations. One of its more famous operations resulted in the exposure of corruption in an arms deal which resulted in the resignation of the Defence Minister of the time and two presidents of the ruling parties. In her presentation Ayyub described how she had gone undercover for eight months (during 2010-2011), taking on an assumed identity and living that identity during the whole period of her sting operation, when she literally entered the lion’s den. She wore hidden cameras. She was meeting people who were involved in the Gujarat genocide and its aftermath, including encounter killings of Muslims.   It was very dangerous work and she had to be extremely careful. She told the audience about the psychological toll that this period has taken on her, the trauma involved and how she is still dealing with the fall-out. Right through her presentation she quoted those she interviewed at this time, for example, a Commissioner of Police who chillingly said “Muslims gave it to us through invasion and we gave it back”.


Unfortunately, in April 2011 Tehelka said it wasn’t going to publish what she had uncovered, and they wanted the tapes to be destroyed. The fact that Tehelka did this shows how the political climate in India had changed over the decade. Ayyub was 26 at that time and the idealism with which she had entered journalism was trashed. In 2013, she left Tehelka when a female colleague accused editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal of sexual assault. But feeling very strongly that people needed to know what she had uncovered about state collusion in what had occurred in Gujarat, she decided to write it up and find a publisher.   She approached many including some of the largest in India. But no publisher was willing to risk reprisals and eventually she self-published it in 2016 and it became a bestsellter.   During Ayyub’s presentation she spoke of how the book has not been banned because then there would be a great deal of publicity. So ignoring it has been strategy of the state and officials as a way to sideline what it reveals.   Ayyub told the audience how the book has been translated into many Indian languages, such as Bengali, Punjabi, Malayalam and there will soon be a Gujarati edition. All these are the result of local initiatives by people who want their fellow Indians to know what happened.


Ayyub’s presentation painted a chilling picture about the state of affairs in India, where minorities live in danger. During the Q&A questions were posed about what is happening to counter the extreme right- wing Hindu nationalist momentum that is sweeping the country. In response Ayyub described India as a country “that has lost its moral compass”. That politicians are not the only ones to blame, instead it is the silent majority who are complicit; who sit in their living rooms doing nothing. She said Indians are deserving of the politicians they get. She said what is needed are citizens’ movements by people who do not have political ambitions.   She said there must be unity of women’s, Dalits and other groups because narrow focus on subjective issues alone is great for Prime Minister Modi; it keeps people apart. In conclusion, Ayyub had a very important message for the diaspora, it has a very important role; it can do more than what is possible in India today.

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