A Book Review of Rana Ayyub’s “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up”

In February 2002, a mob of 5,000 people looted, raped, and burned Muslims to death in a little over 10 hours. Known as the Naroda Patiya massacre, this single incident that claimed 97 lives — more than any other during the Gujarat pogrom — was incited by individuals in RSS connected organizations in what is said to be the aftermath of the Godha Train Burnings, where courts convicted Muslims for killing Hindu pilgrims. [1] Babu Bajrangi, the leader of Gujarat wing’s Bajrang Dal (a militant arm of the Sangh Parivar, the family of Hindutva groups), was initially sentenced to life but granted bail for medical reasons. [2] Maya Kodnani, former BJP leader and gynaecologist accused of being a principal conspirator and organizer of the massacre, was another key individual and sentenced to 28 years in prison and in 2018 was acquitted. [3] 

In an interview with filmmaker Maithili Tyagi, Kodnani maintains her innocence and disdain for Narendra Modi (who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat and now the Prime Minister of India) in making individuals he did not like into scapegoats. What she didn’t know was that Tyagi was actually a disguise invented by journalist Rana Ayyub for an investigative sting operation. It is among these controversial players that Ayyub details her investigation with the deft hand of a narrator haunted by grisly details. Donning the disguise of Tyagi, an upper-caste Hindu filmmaker from America eager to cover Gujarat, she approaches several main police officers, politicians, and leaders in an effort to uncover the complicity of leaders in the 2002 riots.

The title Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up belies the ironic context of the book’s consolidation and publication itself. Tehelka, the journal that initially allowed Ayyub to conduct her investigation, cancelled it after her first meeting with Modi. The reason given in the book is hesitation in the face of Modi’s rising power, though the editor later said it was a matter of editorial standards [4] [5]. It is nonetheless unfortunate that the opportunity to further the investigation was suspended. According to Ayyub, various media outlets refused to publish her recordings and many bookstores refused to stock her book due to the “[danger]” of doing so. [6] Other publishing houses followed suit, prompting her to self-publish upon completion of the book. 

Ayyub also inquires about “encounter” cases; extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists by the police force in what they claim is self-defense. The Ishrat Jahan case is such an example. In 2004, Ahmedabad police officers gunned down four individuals and justified their excessive force by claiming they were agents of Lashkar-e-Taiba and in cahoots to assassinate then-Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi. Ishrat Jahan, a teenager, was one of the four. 15 years later, her family maintains Jahan’s innocence. In the years that followed, investigations have suggested that the encounter in which she was killed was staged by officers [8]. There is yet to be a comprehensive trial. [9]

The answers Ayyub quotes of officials poke holes in the official narrative of the pogrom. Rajan Priyadarshi, ex-chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in Gujarat, claims that officers were not really anti-Muslim, but the “politicians above make them do this” [10]. Him and other officers mention leaders giving indirect orders on the wayside when it was outside the law, expecting officers to comply or risk losing their jobs and livelihood. Quotes from another officer also implicate Amit Shah, currently Minister of Home affairs, in misusing his power to give off-the-record orders [11] and conspiring in fake encounters.

Another angle of the corruption and discrimination saturating the execution of law is outsourcing of violence and crime to the lowest rung of society. Ayyub quotes Priyadarshi, a dalit (“untouchable”, a member of the lowest group of the Hindu caste system), in the coercion of their group to carry out murders in fake encounters because they “[have] no self-respect or values” [12]. Though the discussion of caste-based discrimination is secondary to the investigation, it illustrates the degree of racialization in the society: dalits do the dirty work to consecrate the hands of the upper caste members, who evade persecution. 

The messy legal system and details that have emerged since cast doubt on the accuracy of official inquiries. The encounters and the riots sit under the shadow of corruption and Modi’s rise. This year, Delhi saw echoes of Gujarat. Thousands of Muslims are still displaced, hundreds were injured, and dozens killed in the most horrific ways imaginable. [13]

Islamophobia and Hindutva ideology long predates Modi’s election and is not exclusive to the BJP. However with the Citizenship Amendment Act, turning of the cheek to mob violence, inflaming entirely fictitious and alarmist rhetoric on a “corona jihad” (just recently the Bombay high court reprimanded media for making the Tablighi Jamaat into a “scapegoat” responsible for spreading COVID-19), hospitals turning away Muslim patients, and the continued oppression in Kashmir, 2020 has so far only witnessed a fraction of the ensuing pain should Modi’s regime continue to dominate. In a journal article titled “A Measure of Islamophobia”, Dr. Salman Sayyid argues that “the end of Islamophobia will come about when the hierarchy that makes it possible dissolves.” [14] Alongside countering the ideology that incites violence, the international community needs to disseminate accurate documentation of hate crimes, pressure the Indian government to revoke oppressive policies, and actively provide channels of relief for Muslims and other religious communities suffering from their carnage. We ask Allah to keep us far from being facilitators of corruption.

“And cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. And invoke Him in fear and aspiration. Indeed, the mercy of Allah is near to the doers of good.” (Qur’an 7:56)

Lastly, a common thread of critique is on the style. One could wish there was more oversight on the typos and grammatical errors littered throughout the 200 pages, but that is a vestige of the continuous stifling this work faces. The Supreme Court in a separate but related case regarded the book as having “no utility”, and Ayyub writes that her repeated offers to turn over recorded tapes of the conversations to investigative agencies or courts have been ignored [15]. It sits on damning evidence of collusion by the state government, police, judiciary, and media in coverup of these massive crimes. As of now, her book stands as half-finished, stagnant transcripts that are yet to be considered seriously, while what is now a nightmare could become a permanent cataclysm.

Works Cited:

  1. “Naroda Patiya Case Convictions Debatable, Says Supreme Court; Grants Bail to 4.” Hindustan Times, 23 Jan. 2019, www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/naroda-patiya-case-convictions-debatable-says-supreme-court-grants-bail-to-4/story-JVmure2dAn8xujoReukoIK.html.
  2. Desk, India Today Web. “Babu Bajrangi, Convicted in 2002 Naroda Patiya Riots, Granted Bail by Supreme Court.” India Today, 7 Mar. 2019, www.indiatoday.in/india/story/babu-bajrangi-2002-naroda-patiya-riots-bail-supreme-court-1472676-2019-03-07.
  3. “Maya Kodnani Acquitted in 2002 Gujarat Riots Case.” The Wire, thewire.in/communalism/maya-kodnani-acquitted-in-2002-gujarat-riots-case.
  4. Ayyub, Rana. Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up. Rana Ayyub, 2016. pp. 203
  5. “Gujarat Files: Shoma Chaudhury Responds to Rana Ayyub’s Claims on Tehelka.” The Indian Express, 31 May 2016, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/gujarat-files-shoma-chaudhury-responds-to-rana-ayyubs-claims-on-tehelka/
  6. Salam, Ziya Us. “On the Trail of the Real Culprits.” Frontline, Frontline, 24 Apr. 2018, https://frontline.thehindu.com/books/on-the-trail-of-the-real-culprits/article8755811.ece
  7. “What the Silence Over Rana Ayyub’s ‘Gujarat Files’ Tells Us.” The Wire, https://thewire.in/books/goodbye-satyameva-jayate-telling-silence-on-rana-ayyubs-gujarat-files
  8. “India Officials Charged with Ishrat Jahan ‘Staged’ Killing.” BBC News, BBC, 7 Feb. 2014 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-26079070
  9. Singh, Divyesh. “Ishrat Jahan Encounter Case: Mother Says She’s Tired after Long Fruitless Fight.” India Today, 2 Oct. 2019, www.indiatoday.in/india/story/ishrat-jahan-encounter-case-mother-says-she-s-tired-after-long-fruitless-fight-1605632-2019-10-02.
  10. Ayyub, Rana. Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up. Rana Ayyub, 2016. pp. 63
  11. Ibid. pp 119
  12. Ibid. pp 63
  13. Ellis-Petersen, Hannah. “Inside Delhi: Beaten, Lynched and Burnt Alive.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 Mar. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/01/india-delhi-after-hindu-mob-riot-religious-hatred-nationalists.
  14. Sayyid, S. “A Measure of Islamophobia.” Islamophobia Studies Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 2014, pp. 22, doi:10.13169/islastudj.2.1.0010. 
  15. Ayyub, Rana. An Appeal to the SC to Examine the Gujarat Files Tapes as Evidence, 11 July 2019, https://caravanmagazine.in/law/appeal-supreme-court-haren-pandya-examine-gujarat-files-rana-ayyub-evidence

Heraa Hashmi is the Marketing Director for Traversing Tradition. She is best known for her research project, Muslims Condemn. She is a graduate in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and has also studied linguistics. Her interests include the Islamic sciences, cognitive linguistics, and bioethics.

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