Gujarat Files/Rana Ayyub/2016
After a long gap of 14 years, a lower court in Gujarat, designated ‘Special Court’, has delivered its verdict in case related to the carnage in a building complex in Ahmedabad in 2002. Naturally, the general reaction to this is ‘too late, too little’. Hours before this, I finished Rana Ayyub’s ‘Gujarat Files’. When I write this all, I am reminded of my own Gujarat visit in March, 2002. I along with four others from JNU had gone there to do some relief works. We used to talk with the displaced people or play with the kids in the Shah Alam Camp in the evening. We visited some localities and houses burnt and destroyed by the killers. We also watched lots of footages and saw many photos being documented by a group of FTII students.
After a day or two, we were also instructed to do a random survey among the majority community about their feelings about the carnage. We talked to many people belonging to various economic and social groups including the migrant workers from UP and Bihar. We could not find a single person who expressed any remorse, repentance or unease over whatever happened. In fact, the horrendous communal onslaught was very much on in other parts of the state at that time. We had our own taste of being undercover at times.
I can understand Rana’s enthusiasm, but her fearlessness is unmatched. It is almost insane. Beyond logic. Despite being under the patronage of known activists and eminent personalities, we were horrified. Her crazy boldness to uncover the most brutal truth of our times is enough to lend credibility to her narrative and her operation. Despite the massive blackout by the mainstream media, barring a ‘few’, her book is a best-seller and has generated a huge interest on social media. It is remarkable that the ‘truth’ about the carnage, and also about those ‘encounters’, is a commonplace by now. There are uncountable reports, articles, commissions, cases, even verdicts. Not to mention the statements of the participants. Then, why there is that much interest in this book? To me, the simple reason is that the kingpins and conspirators are still beyond any punishment. This very want of justice pulls us towards Gujarat time and again. That is why I am perplexed when a reviewer in the Mint asks for detailed narratives from Ayyub.
This book is not a research or detective fiction. But, such a book attracts varied readers. One trollisque review questions Rana’s mentions about the ‘raid’ in her room or the ‘mysterious’ vehicle parked outside her guest house. If Ayyub was followed for some time and the ‘mysterious’ shadows were satisfied with the reports on this Tyagi, or she was not followed at all and her fears were just hallucinations, then, this sordid saga gets more chilling. Then it indicates the lax on the part of the consipirators. And this lax is not a product of their carelessness, but of their surety about their might and their confidence. Ayyub’s ‘fears’ of being followed makes those horrendous thugs bit humane. It shows that they are not free of fear. And, they are not.
I have read many self-published books. But all others, except ‘Gujarat Files’, have names of their printers or the agencies that helped the authors or/and distributed the books. Just a few weeks ago Subir Ghosh has self-published ’Sue the Messanger’ with Paranjoy Guha Thakurata. Thakurata’s last book ‘Gas Wars’ was also self-published. These are great books like ‘Gujarat Files’ and must be on your shelf if you care for this country’s present and future. This feature of printer being absent from Ayyub’s book makes it a bit unique, and becomes a commentary in itself. However, I won’t blame Tehelka’s then editors for not publishing it. And, Ayyub has also not blamed them that strongly. We know what happened to Tehelka during that notorious NDA-1 regime. We also know how Tejpal and Choudhary were hounded after that rape allegation against Tejpal. There are thousands of such stories.
Look at the officers and that Kodnani featured in ‘Gujarat Files’. No one is sorry for his or her role. All are playing victim card. That is chilling. The overarching personality terror of two top guys, then and now, is terrifying in those pages. The fear and submission at large, after Gujarat, now all over, is becoming a normal. India is becoming Gujarat of the post-2002 years. Rana Ayyub’s book is a profound indicator of that. Not only the content of the book, but also its publication story. The content is important for its evidential value. All is known for too long.
Justice is becoming an increasing impossibility in India, and elsewhere too. But, the righteous has no choice except to act and to try. More power to them! But history is a thing. It never forgets, it never forgives. It is utterly ruthless. Cruel at times. I have hope from that. The victims of the post-2002 Gujarat have lost much afterwards- in courts, in commissions, in politics. The pain and hopelessness in their struggles are the only strength. The post-2002 Gujarat is archived not only in media, in courts, reports or books like this, but also in the collective suffering of people in Gujarat and beyond. Gujarat is now the entire country. Gujarat is India today.
What is to be done? One can write, read, talk or cry. And I cried reading this book. It happened to me after very long. I don’t cry over details. I cry over the lost innocence of the characters in this book, and also of the writer, the undercover reporter, Rana Ayyub alias Maithili Tyagi.