Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, is a self-published, brave work of 26 years old journalist Rana Ayyub, who in 2010 went to Gujarat and lived undercover in dangerous circumstances, risking her life to uncover the truth. Published in more than 13 languages it is an investigative journalistic exercise that contains transcripts of tapes of a sting operation. A large part of the book is in an interview form, corroborated with the Supreme Court constituted special investigation team’s findings. The foreword of the book is written by Justice B.N. Krishna, a retired judge of The Supreme Court of India.
The book acts as a strong critique of both the ruling dispensation, the opposition and ends with the amalgamated aspects of hope and confusion for the book and the tapes in Rana’s possession possess the power to alter the political scenario of the country if the country desires so.
Rana Ayyub pretending to be Maithili Tyagi, a US-based filmmaker who had come to Gujarat to make a film on Vibrant Gujarat spent eight months undercover. During the operation, Rana met with many bureaucrats and senior police officers responsible for the state’s security who had held key positions in the State between 2001 and 2010. Ayyub recorded her interactions with them through hidden cameras and other devices which she secreted in her kurta.
Ayyub gained access to these officials by posing as Maithili Tyagi, daughter of Sanskrit professor with pro Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh credentials and had come to India to research for a film about the state. The motive of the operation was to dig out the buried truth behind the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002, and the numerous fake encounters that took place between 2002 and 2006. Through this book, she tried to give possible explanations of why senior police officers and bureaucrats who were responsible for the state’s security acted the way they did.
By putting her life at risk, she tried to implicate those who are responsible for thousands of deaths and tried to highlight the role of the bureaucracy and the police officers who at the direction of the government propagated ideological radicalization that contributed to lawlessness in the state. It must be noted that in the aftermath of Rana’s investigation of the ‘fake encounters’ of Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabbudin Sheikh, and others. The then Home Minister Amit Shah was arrested and barred from entering Gujarat.
While the Godhra train burning and subsequent communal riots, which remain a blot on the nation’s conscience, Gujarat Files takes the story forward from 2002, focusing on the Gujarat riot and on various fake encounters between 2002 and 2006. There were several high-profile encounters in Gujarat between 2002 and 2006. The victims were portrayed as terrorists, but later investigations cast doubts on those claims. When the fake encounters were exposed by the media, especially Tehelka, a number of senior police officers were investigated and imprisoned. (Salil Tripathi, Book review: Gujarat Files, (2016) https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/hnE8QCMynIo66eS0VfmChK/Book-review-Gujarat-Files.html)
While reading the words of former top cops, readers will find that those who are entrusted with the safety of citizens are the real culprit. The police are obliged to serve the public above all, but they were completely beholden to the government in power.
In her sting operation, she recorded many government officials talking about the role of the Modi Government in Gujarat. The officers she interviewed appeared helpless as they carried out actions without written authorization which may not be legal. The officials followed orders because not doing so would have seriously jeopardized their careers. Some reveal their communal prejudices and some pinpointed caste-based discrimination.
After publishing this book, Rana was attacked by an army of trolls who unleashed a character assassination campaign against her. She had become the victim of relentless abuse and had been constantly called as “Jihadi Jane”, “Sex slave of ISIS”, “prostitute”. She had repeatedly been issued death and rape threats. Unfortunately, this is very common for all bold journalists. Gauri Lankesh, who translated Gujarat Files to Kannada, was shot dead. (Siobhán O’Grady, An Indian journalist has been trolled for years. Now U.N. experts say her life could be at risk, The Washington Post, (2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/05/26/an-indian-journalist-has-been-trolled-for-years-now-u-n-experts-say-her-life-could-be-at-risk/)
About Rana, The Washington Post wrote “One year, she went through 52 SIM cards in an effort to divert trolls who were stalking her over the phone. Online, she said, it seems like a “coordinated social media campaign” intended to intimidate her out of continuing her job as a freelance journalist.” The hate campaign against her was of that extent that it compelled five United Nations special rapporteurs to write to the Indian government, asking it to ensure her safety. (UN experts call on India to protect journalist Rana Ayyub from online hate campaign, United Nations Human Rights, (2018) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23126&LangID=E)
In her quest for truth, Rana concealed her Muslim identity, leading a double life, carrying multiple concealed cameras on her person, and put her life in danger. All of this is an ode to journalism.
During her sting, she managed to get close to many powerful people and secretly recorded their conversations. These people include Gujarat’s former home secretary, Ashok Narayan; the former Director-general of police during the 2002 riots, PC Pandey; G.C. Raigar, the chief of intelligence during the riots; the former head of the anti-terrorism squad, Rajan Priyadarshi; the former ATS Ahmedabad head, GL Singhal; the former inspector general of police, Geeta Johri; as well as former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani, who would later be found guilty in the Naroda Patiya massacre. Rana also reached Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, but the reader gets few details of this.
Many call her investigation fake and politically motivated. But, it is very surprising that not a single officer mentioned in the book has denied making the statements, or filed any defamation suit against her. Also, not a single investigating agency called for the forensic analysis of these tapes to determine the authenticity or set up an inquiry. None of the government officials said that she is lying, because they know they are on tape. Since the launch of the book, in May 2016, Rana urged investigating agencies, including the SIT, to view the taped conversations, and have repeatedly offered to hand over the recordings. (Rana Ayyub, An appeal to the Supreme Court after its Haren Pandya judgment: Examine the “Gujarat Files” tapes as evidence, The Caravan, (2018) https://caravanmagazine.in/law/appeal-supreme-court-haren-pandya-examine-gujarat-files-rana-ayyub-evidence)
Various national and international organizations of repute critically acclaimed her investigative journalism and have recognized Gujarat Files as journalistic work. It was awarded a citation of excellence at the Global Shining Light Awards in 2017 in Johannesburg, which rewards investigative journalism conducted under threat. She has received the Outlook Social Media Youth icon award of the year. In 2018, on International Day to end impunity for crime against journalists, the Free Press Unlimited honored her with the title of the “Most Resilient Journalist of 2018”.
For anyone who is interested in becoming an investigative journalist, Rana’s experience is a living example for them. Her quest for truth teaches us that one should be courageous enough to put his/her on the line for a cause one believes in.
Despite the fact that this self-published book (because turned down by corporate publishers for obvious reasons) needs some more clarifications, it is a hugely successful book.
Outlook Magazine wrote:
“For Those Who Care About Integrity Of Institutions And Systems Of Justice, Gujarat Files Is A Wake-Up Call.”
Recommended reading: Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, edited by Siddharth Varadarajan. Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat by Dionne Bunsha.
(Md. Ali Imran, the author of this book review, is a final year student of law at Jamia Millia Islamia, having a keen interest in reading, and authoring articles.)