June 4, 2016
An unfinished book
Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up; Rana Ayyub, Rs. 295.
Rana Ayyub’s Gujarat Files raises some important questions that require further investigation, understanding and analysis
In 2010, Rana Ayyub, then working for news magazine Tehelka, spent eight months undercover in Gujarat pretending to be Maithili Tyagi, a filmmaker. Ayyub conducted a sting operation and met with bureaucrats and senior police officers who had held key positions in the State between 2001 and 2010. Her book, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, contains previously unpublished transcripts from the sting operation that Tehelka withheld from publication. Ayyub offered tapes of these to various media and publishing houses, who, she states, refused to publish its contents. Till the writing of this review, the tapes themselves remain untested by forensic labs.
The transcripts presented in the book chronicle the violence that preceded the consolidation of power in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in the aftermath of the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002, and the numerous encounter deaths that took place between 2002 and 2006. The book tries to pinpoint the role of the bureaucracy and the police who, it shows, through their complicity, tacit collusion, and silence, drove forward with lethal precision and ideological radicalisation the policies of lawlessness.
Rajan Priyadarshi, Director-General of the Anti-Terrorism Squad in Gujarat in 2007, is quoted as saying: “… 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. And now look at this, the courts have given him bail too.” Priyadarshi’s comments and their implications raise serious questions about the nature of power, politics, corruption and the use of unconstitutional violence by the State. If these transcripts are validated, they could present serious legal and ethical repercussions about Shah’s use of the State police force as his personal assassination squad and the bureaucracy as his fief.
The cornerstones of democracy demand that the State, its leadership, bureaucracy, and police force, occupy no position greater than the law and the people it is obligated to serve. Writing the dissenting judgment in Olmstead v. the United States, Justice Brandeis stated what has come to embody the fundamental relationship between State and society and the consequences of the abuse of law for the ends of State ideology: “In a government of laws, the existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”
Ms. Ayyub’s book corroborates many of the findings from the 12 May 2010 SIT report ordered by the Supreme Court of India, but does not provide new evidence.
There are, however, two important questions the book raises that require further investigation, understanding, and analysis. First, Ayyub points to the use and co-optation of Dalit officers like Priyadarshi and others belonging to lower castes, such as D. Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Amin, and Parmar, as agents of state violence and articulates the policy of “use and abandon”. In a candid moment, Priyadarshi is quoted as saying, “I mean a Dalit officer can be asked to commit cold-blooded murder because he (apparently) has no self-respect, no ideals. Upper castes in the Gujarat police are the ones in (everyone’s) good books.”
These insights, if explored from the perspective of the sociology of the state, can help us better understand how mechanisms of co-optation often turn members of marginalised communities, even when they become stakeholders in state power, into objects of their own subjugation.
Second, towards the end of the book, Maharashtra police officer Daya Nayak, the encounter specialist eulogised by Bollywood, tells Ayyub, “The biggest political murder in the country (…), had happened in Gujarat, that of Haren Pandya, Modi’s arch rival.” Pandya, former Home Minister of Gujarat, was murdered in 2003. All the accused in the case were acquitted by the Gujarat High Court eight years later, and the court concluded the CBI had “botched up and blinkered” its investigation.
Later in the chapter, Y.A. Shaikh, the first investigating officer in the Pandya murder, tells Ayyub, “You know this Haren Pandya case is like a volcano. Once the truth is out, Modi will go home. He will be jailed, not go home. He will be in prison.”
Soon after this conversation, the chapter ends abruptly raising more questions. After 13 years, there are still no answers and the pursuit of justice remains elusive for the Pandya family and the thousands who perished then.
Gujarat under Modi and his ally Shah has witnessed a terrible mutation in state and civil society. To characterise the violence in Gujarat as either the anarchy of the mob or the recurring outbursts of ancient hatreds is intellectually dishonest, and historically and analytically incorrect. Similarly, labelling police and bureaucratic complicity as a “few bad apples” is a gross refusal to acknowledge the regimes of impunity that have been cultivated by the State for its means and ends. Instead, we need to understand how such an elaborate system of control has been perfected and put in place.
We are in need of a narrator, an interlocutor, and a fearless voice that can articulate the transforming nature of society and state. It is precisely here that Ayyub’s book could have been the intervention; that answered and explained some of these questions. But Gujarat Files, as it is today, is an unfinished book, waiting for an editor who can rethink its narrative, challenge the structure, and strengthen its arguments. The transcripts by themselves are just unfinished conversations, waiting for context and analysis.
Suchitra Vijayan is a New York-based barrister, political analyst and writer. She is currently working on her first book on the making of India’s political borders.
The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition.
University of Chicago Press, 1994
A major reinterpretation of religion and society in India, challenging earlier accounts of Sikhism, Hinduism, and Islam as historically given categories with well-demarcated units of religious identity. Published twenty years ago the book is a salutary reading in the contexts of South Asia in 2014/2015.
Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan
Praise for ‘Global Jihad and America’
Hashmi takes us back deep into history in order to understand the present objectively and precisely. It is a major departure from all current theories in its depth and originality.
—Harbans Mukhia. Former Rector and Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi
Taj Hashmi’s profoundly erudite new book helps to clear the water so callously muddied by Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations.” This is a must read for any one interested in understanding the security threats in the 21st century.
—Gowher Rizvi, Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia
A must read, this learned and provocative study argues persuasively that intra-Muslim conflict rather than Muslim–West confrontation will characterize the future.
—Charles B. Salmon, Jr Ambassador (ret.) Foreign Policy Advisor, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS)Honolulu, Hawaii
Global Jihad and America questions the assumption if Islamist terrorism, or “Global Jihad,” poses the biggest threat to modern civilization in the East and West. It explores if Islamic and Western civilizations, being “incompatible” to each other, are destined to be at loggerheads. Consequently, the book argues that state-sponsored terrorism and proxy wars—not terrorist acts by “non-state actors”—will pose the biggest security threat to the world.
Women and violence
Afghanistan Remembers: Gendered Narrations of Violence and Culinary Practices
University of Toronto Press , 192 pp / 8 images / 6 x 9 / July 2014
Although an extensive academic literature exists on the subject of violence, little attention has been given to the ways in which it becomes entrenched and normalized in the inner recesses of everyday life. In Afghanistan Remembers, Parin Dossa examines how violence is remembered by Afghan women through memories and food practices in their homeland and its diaspora. Her work reveals how the suffering and trauma of violence has been rendered socially invisible following decades of life in a war-zone. Dossa argues that it is necessary to acknowledge the impact of violence on the familial lives of Afghan women along with their attempts at re-building their lives under difficult circumstances.
Informed by Dossa’s own story of family migration and loss, Afghanistan Remembers is a poignant ethnographic account of the trauma of war in Afghanistan and its diaspora that calls on the reader to recognize and bear witness to the impact of deeper forms of violence.
South Asian Diaspora
“South Asian Skilled Immigrants in Greater Vancouver: Formal and Informal Sources of Support for Settlement.”
Habiba Zaman and Syeda Nayab Bukhari. Metropolis British Columbia Working Paper Series. No.13-09, December 2013.
Climate Justice for Bangladesh
Climate Change in Bangladesh: Confronting Impending Disasters.
Harun Rashid and Bimal Paul (Lexington Books, 2013)
The book offers a comprehensive analysis of climate change impacts on Bangladesh with a review of measures for confronting the manifested threats on the people and the environment. It examines the modern engineering interventions and disaster management policies for alleviating these hazards. Although It looks at the whole of Bangladesh it focuses on the environment and the people of the coastal areas who are most at risk from inundation due to rising sea levels induced by global warming. Its key concern is with the people affected by climate change, who could be seen as climate change victims and climate change refugees. Their plight makes urgent the investigation of climate justice and the development of public policies on climate change.
A fine anthology of Dalit Writing includes selections from Ambedkar, the poems of Siddalingaiah and the 1973 manifesto of the Dalit Panthers.
The Exercise of Freedom: AnIntroduction to Dalit Writing
Edited and Introduced by K Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu Navayana, 2013
From the book’s introduction:
In an important essay on dalit literature, the Marathi dalit critic and writer, Baburao Bagul, argues that “the established literature of India is Hindu literature” and that the ‘lowest’ castes are excluded in Indian literature because of its Hindu character. He explains: “Writers who have internalised the Hindu value-structure find it impossible to accept heroes, themes and thoughts derived from the philosophies of Phule and Ambedkar”. Bagul and other dalit critics … reinterpret the period of colonial rule and revisit the Gandhi–Ambedkar dialogue. Their critical engagement enables them to show that Indian literature is elite, Hindu and upper caste. Dalit literature, they demonstrate, represents a new thinking and a new point of view. It poses the question of the representation of dalit and lower caste life (‘heroes, themes and thoughts’ from dalit society) as a critical public issue.
…The canons of modern Indian literatures as well as that of Indian writing in English are constituted of works and critical attitudes that are shaped by an anticolonial nationalism. Although history books are written as though this was the only form of nationalism that existed, anticolonial nationalism is actually Congress nationalism, and more specifically, Gandhian nationalism. In such nationalist thinking, the entire story of the struggle for freedom is told as one of opposition between the colonizer and colonized…
…The canonical writers of Indian literatures generally did not discuss caste, class, gender and other inequalities in a radical way. These ‘internal’ problems, it was believed, would divide Indians. They portrayed peasants, workers and adivasis — all integrated into the Gandhian national movement. In other words, the Gandhian mobilization of all sections of Indians to present a united force to challenge British rule obscured many questions of inequalities amongst Indians, most importantly, the questions of freedom from slavery and untouchability. Even novelists who attempted to represent dalit and lower caste life do not escape the ideological hold of Gandhian thinking on their representation of dalits. Unnava Lakshmi Narayana’s Malapalli (1922), in Telugu, and Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935), in English, and several other Indian language novels can be cited as examples of this trend.
Dalit critics have argued that despite its seeming concern with untouchability, Gandhian nationalism actually suppressed important questions that were articulated by Dr BR Ambedkar (1891–1956) and other dalit leaders
The marginalized and culturally stigmatized sections of Indian society did not oppose colonialism or think of it only as anti-Indian rule. They adopted a strategic view of colonialism as a moment of structural reorganization of Indian society. They invoked the normative ideas of equality and modernity, made use of colonial educational institutions, converted to Christianity and organized their communities as religious and social pressure groups. But the nationalists who advocated anticolonialism as the primary task described the dalit religious and social movements as sectarian and pro-British. The ideas of Ambedkar and other anti-caste thinkers such as Ayyankali, Iyo-thee Thass, Swami Achhutanand and Kusuma Dharmanna among others were buried in this nationalist view.
Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, and Consequences (1947-2011).
Ishtiaq Ahmed. (Oxford, 2013)
Ishtiaq Ahmed approaches the shaping of the Pakistan state from the perspective of international relations but expands it, arguing that the domination of the Pakistan military cannot be explained merely as an effect of the Cold War. Rather, “it is a peculiar evolution of historical and contemporaneous, internal and external factors, as well as religious, cultural and social dimensions.” Gen Musharraf’s description of Pakistan as a “fortress of Islam” in 2002 is a delineation of the garrison state, dependent on a sense of being besieged and prioritizing security and defense.
The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed.
Ishtiaq Ahmed (Oxford, 2012; Rupa, Delhi, 2011)
“The book is the most comprehensive, balanced, unbiased and objective account of the tragic happenings during Partition in the two Punjabs.” Pran Neville, The Statesman
“Ishtiaq Ahmed’s study has finally done justice to ‘Punjab 1947’ , attaining in its narration hitherto unreached levels of analysis, comprehensiveness and detail.” Rajmohan Gandhi, South Asian Citizen’s Web, www.sacw.net
From the book: “The myth that religion can be converted from a spiritual device to achieve consolidation is shattered in Pakistan. Although one fourth the size of pluralist India the polity of Muslim Pakistan is more bitterly divided between Shias, Sunnis, Pashtuns, Punjabis. Sindis and Mohajirs as they battle for turf and power. If people want to reclaim their cultural nationalism by normalizing relations between India and Pakistan, the new generation must get rid of the political mindset that prevails in both counties. That implies a replacement of the prevailing political class and political culture. That would require nothing short of a democratic revolution. That in a real sense would be the subcontinent’s second freedom struggle.”
Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada. Ed. Sanjay Kak (Haymarket Books, 2013)
A collection of recent writing by Kashmiris. For details see Sanjay Kak’s interview with David Barsamian under South Asian Bulletin The interview is reproduced courtesy of Alternative Radio, Boulder, Colorado. Visit its website, http://www.alternativeradio. org for excellent interviews with leading public intellectuals on issues of global significance.
On Global Migration Justce:
Undoing Border Imperialism
Harsha Walia, A K Press, 2013.
Walia situates immigrant rights movements within a transnational analysis of capitalism, labour exploitation, state building, and radicalized empire. She combines academic discourse, lived experience of displacement and movement-based practice to make a case for building resistance.
On Bangladesh-India Relations:
For a fine analysis of the relation between religion, nation formation and national politics, regional relations, and geopolitics see Taj Hashmi’s article on the relationship between Bangladesh and India:
For critical commentary on urgent issues in India see INSAF Bulletin: http://www.insafbulletin.net
Deepa Kumar, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, Haymarket Books, Chicago, Ill., 2012
Kumar offers an excellent account of the deep imbrication of Islamophobia in US policy and institutions.
Pankaj Mishra, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, 2012.
Mishra gives a very valuable account of the network of Asian intellectuals and activists in resistance to European imperialism in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. His book would give depth to any understanding of the current relationship between Islam, modernity, and Western imperialism.