Gujarat Files: Anatomy of A Malady

Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover-Up, by Rana Ayyub, self published (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform), 2016

81agcrXgCNLRana Ayyub’s Gujarat Files is a chilling read. Based on her investigations into fake encounters and the alleged complicity of the top brass of the Gujarat state administration, as an undercover journalist who adopted the nom-de-plume of Maithili Tyagi to unearth shocking revelations, the book is a gripping and grim commentary on the state of the nation, the nature of the administrative machinery, the entrenched fissures within the body-polity of the nation and the chimerical nature of justice in what is supposed to be a constitutionally bound function- ing democracy.

14 years have passed since the Gujarat genocide and enough accounts have been published so far for almost every sensible person to understand that carnage on such scale for such a prolonged period could not have gone on without the complicity of the state government at various levels. What Rana Ayyub’s account offers is shocking revelations from persons who had been in charge of some of the most key posts in the erstwhile administration which not only corroborate some of the worst suspicions people have had regarding the nature of the contemporary administration and the pervasiveness of the systemic malady that continues to ravage the nation from within, but also expose the entrenched nature of communal prejudice and hatred among people who are otherwise remarkably polite, well-spoken and even compassionate.

Consider the case of former minister Maya Kodnani for example. Convicted for her involvement in the Naroda Patiya massacre during the Gujarat riots, her attitude towards Maithili Tyagi was not just kind and generous, but even motherly. After serving Maithili aamras which she had pureed and preserved herself, she says “You eat, it will feel like my son is eating. You too are like my daughter, Maithili” (167). But the same woman then goes on to add: “Look at these Muslims, Maithili, even their kids are so kattar…And what are these people taught from childhood, that you have to kill, only if you kill you are a Muslim. Ye log kya sikhate hain ki aap ek admi ko bhi musalmaan banao toh aapko jannati pari milega. And all this is taught in Madrassahs” (168). Such seamless fusion of motherly affection for a stranger, though Hindu and apparently from U.S.A., with pathological prejudice and hatred jarringly registers in the readers the manifold complexities involved in understanding communalism and its many manifestations in the Indian society.

 Similarly jarring would be the sheer casualness with which orders are given for extra-judicial killings which in several cases are neither reported nor punished. This is evident from the revelations of Rajan Priyadarshi, a former ATS chief, regarding one of his encounters with erstwhile Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah:

“This minster Amit Shah, he never used to believe in human rights. He used to tell us that I don’t believe in these human rights commissions…So this Shah calls me to his bungalow…So when I reach he says, ‘Achchha aapne ek bande ko arrest kiya hai na, jo abhi aaya hai ATS mein, usko maar daalne ka hai…dekho maar daalo, aise aadmi ko jeene ka koi haq nahi hai’” (58-59).

Such accounts almost seem to leap out of a Bollywood film and make us wonder about the sheer precariousness of our lives. While it is true that readers are in no position to judge the veracity of these claims made by senior government officials, long after their retirement, the very possibility of such a reality must evoke righteous indignation regarding the state of the nation. Similarly chilling are the claims regarding Amit Shah’s predecessor, Gordhan Zadaphia, while Priyadarshi served as IGP Rajkot:

“The HM called me up and said, ‘Rajanji, where are you?’. I said, ‘Sir I am in Junagadh’. So he said, ‘achchha write down three names and arrest all three’. I said, ‘Sir, these three are sitting with me and let me tell you Sir that they are all Muslims and because of them normalcy has been restored, and these are the people who have brought the Hindus and Muslims together with their efforts and brought the riots to an end’. So he said, ‘dekho CM sahib ne kaha hai’ and then this guy only was the CM, Narendra Modi, [and he told me] that it was the CM’s order. I said, ‘Sir I can’t do it even if it’s the CM’s order because these three are innocent’” (60-61).

Of course not many officers would be able to show such courage and integrity and the dire consequences are easily imaginable. It is in recognition of this that G.L. Singhal, another former chief of Gujarat ATS, who was accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, says: “System ke saath rehna hai to compromise karna padta hai” — and of course in his case compromise meant acquiescing to extra-judicial killings, among other things. [Published excerpts from the book, confirming his role can be found here.

Alongside such claims there are also several other reports of inexcusable administrative malaise such as those involving governmental persecution of honest and courageous officers who have refused to toe the line, such as Kuldeep Sharma and Rahul Kumar —  reports that have been corroborated by other newspapers and media outlets as well. Unfortunately in the fragmented scenario of Indian politics such gross violations of laws and ethics can all too easily be brushed off with electoral victories, while the tainted individuals bask in the glory of national and even international glory.

Embedded in all of this is also a matrix of caste-based discrimination and prejudice which becomes evident from the fact that most of the officers accused in cases of fake encounters belong to lower and backward castes and their conviction that it is their caste identity that has ensured that they are going to be used and then abandoned by political masters after getting their dirty works done through them. For example, Rajan Priyadarshi, a Dalit IPS who still cannot buy a house in the upper-caste inhabited areas of his native village Kadagra, where even the local barber refuses to entertain Dalit customers, exclaimed in anguish, “It was very strange, you know it was like if you are a Dalit, anybody in the office can get away with anything. There was no dignity attached. I mean a Dalit officer can be asked to commit cold-blooded murder because he (apparently) has no self-respect, no ideals” (56).

 Such revelations, and the book contains a lot more, if indeed they are true, suggest that the Indian democracy is in many ways a failed experiment with lethal consequences where the unholy wedlock of criminality and political success will only lead to further miscarriage of justice. The only glimmer of hope is perhaps the selfless, audacious and relentless crusade for truth that is undertaken by individuals like Rana Ayyub who remain undaunted by intimidation, slander and outbursts of brazen bigotry. As Justice B. N. Srikrishna mentions in his foreword, “While one may not be in a position to validate all that is narrated in this book, one cannot but admire the courage and passion displayed by the author in her attempts to unmask what she believes to be the truth” (viii).

– Abin Chakraborty

Jihadi Jane

Jihadi Jane by Tabish Khair, published by Penguin, 2016

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The name Jihadi Jane would remind readers of Colleen LaRose. It was her nomme de guerre. A few years back, having sworn her allegiance to the Islamic State, Collen conspired to kill the artist, Lars Vilks who had drawn the infamous cartoons of the prophet, Muhammad (PBUH). But Tabish Khair’s new novel Jihadi Jane is not about Collen, but women who like Collen choose the ISIS above everything else in their lives. Women joining terrorist organizations are not a new phenomenon; they have previously been part of the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Provisional Irish Republican Army. But people have found it difficult to wrap their heads around the fact that since 2014 more than a 1,000 Western women have migrated to the Middle East to join the ISIS, primarily to be Jihadi Brides.

Khair’s narrative is in first person and he adopts a conversational style to communicate with his readers. The narrator is Jameela, a former Jihadi Jane, who escapes from becoming a jihadi bride or a jihadi bomb. She tells the story of her life in Britain and then her experience in Syria after escaping from home with her friend Ameena to serve the Islamic State.

The strength of Khair’s text lies in it never becoming too preachy or pedantic. Rather he keeps the account racy, using the right amount of suspense and pauses to keep the readers asking for more. Ameena recounts:

“I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up it was dark and we were in the countryside… I thought that I was in a bus going through some part of England…Then full consciousness sank in, and I realized—probably for the first time—the immensity of my act.”

The murder of the British MP Jo Cox led to an outrage among the Britons who are apparently not used to such violence. The murder threatened Britain’s sanitized and inclusive image. But Khair shows how the insidious racism and Othering of the Britons contribute to people moving to the other side, “…all of it is under constant assault by ordinary life in the West… It builds up a core of bitterness in you… Sometimes I felt I would do anything to be free of all this, to be myself without being considered a monster or a curiosity.”

Through the eventual disillusionment of the two protagonists, Khair also exposes the hollowness of the jihad that the soldiers of Allah are waging against the Mushriks and the Takfiris. The blood thirstiness and the indiscriminate and savage killings make Ameena realize, “goodness has to live with the pettiness and dullness of evil. Goodness has to live with the possibility of evil, not eradicate it… But when goodness wants to become pure and alone, that is when it turns evil, truly evil…Evil itself.”

Khair’s other female characters are also of interest. There is Hejiya who uses the Internet to inspire and recruit brides for the fighters, symbolizing the deception that lies at the core of the Caliphate. Then there is Umm Layth or the mother of tigers who has sacrificed her sons for the Caliphate. She symbolizes the blind faith of the people in the ISIS, who live by the mantra that Allah and men know the best. Through Dilnaz and Sera, the Kurdish soldiers, Khair draws attention to the fact that Kurdistan and Kurds, who are being bombed by both the ISIS militants and Turkey, are the only people who have managed to stand up to the militants.

This novel grows in significance in the recent spate in terror attacks across the world. People have come to become more and more interested in the backgrounds of the attackers and their mental conditions. Khair’s Jihadi Jane must be read for its attempt to give the readers a glimpse into the minds of the delusional and the disillusioned.

– Shafia Parveen

shafia parveen