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Welcome to Rana Ayyub's Substack
A new home for my words; here's what to expect, why you should subscribe, and a little about me.
My encounters with the unpopular truth
I have been “accused” of speaking truth to power for the last fifteen years, and I concur. The thing about truth is that it exists simply and clearly but never autonomously. It is said the truth is subjective, more so in this “post-truth” era, and I concur with that too. I do believe truth is always held ransom by those in power, and as an investigative journalist my work has always been to pry open those clutches of hegemony. In the last seven years (half of my journalistic career), my job of telling the truth has become increasingly crucial and life-threatening. Under a rising autocratic regime in India where my reality as a Muslim, a persecuted minority, is constantly dismissed as prejudice, the veracity and urgency of my words find a home here.
My relationship with truth is personal. A common Western notion of truth relies on a sanitised, sterilised version of objectivity—the person writing must remove their experiences and biases from their work. I confront this notion in my journalism with an ethical subjectivism; speaking as a sentient being for those not considered sentient enough in this world. While addressing rampant worldwide Islamophobia, I strive to centre the marginalised—castes, genders, faiths—at the same time challenge a system that keeps them there. I am not neutral; my journalism clearly defines the oppressor and the oppressed; it recognises majoritarian privilege. It seeks to be a voice of the voiceless.
On this page you will find me having conversations—with you, newsmakers, leaders, journalists, writers and myself. These conversations will take the form of essays, reports, podcasts, open discussion threads, interviews, features and recommendations. I will go beyond my regular reportage and bring to you stories of journalism from the field, anecdotes from my time under cover and excerpts from my book “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.”
This space will dig deep into what constitutes true investigative journalism. I will be reporting from India and the neighbouring countries on stories the world needs to hear. I will interview journalists from oppressive regimes, who have consistently defended a free and vibrant democracy; writers and public intellectuals known globally for their profound expressions of discontent. There will also be ongoing discussions and debates with experts, policy makers, leaders and creative professionals, on current affairs, crises and humanitarian concerns.
I will also platform an emerging journalist or writer occasionally and feature their work while mentoring them.I will share tips from my experiences as a part of the “journalism beyond the institute” series. I will share who and what I am reading, and which work impacts me the most.
When you subscribe to this page, you will hear my voice, my opinions, my process, my cohort and expertise, with the truth and my being at the centre.
I will never be the victim of my story. I was handicapped by polio at the age of five, survived it, and now I run marathons. I went to a vernacular medium public school in a poor neighbourhood of Bombay. My lack of eloquence in English was the subject of mockery through journalism school (our colonial hangover has no cure yet), and my shy personality didn’t help. Yet here I am, fifteen years later, awarded for my voice; the Most Resilient Journalist by the Peace Palace in Hague in 2018, the Global Shining Light Award for journalism in 2017 and the McGill Medal for Journalistic Courage in 2021.
At the age of 26, my investigation put the serving Home Minister of India behind bars. It was called one of the 20 greatest magazine stories of all times by Outlook India. I went undercover as a Hindu nationalist girl, posing as a film student with eight cameras on my body. The operation, an exercise in exposing the culpability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the anti-Muslim violence of 2002, was called the equivalent of the Watergate Scandal. It was self-published as the award-winning book “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.” My work as an investigative journalist is profiled in the New Yorker by Dexter Filkins. You will find me in conversation with David Remnick on this New Yorker podcast, on being Muslim and a public voice in India.
As I continue to be censored by most mainstream publications in India, I find space as the Global Opinions writer at the Washington Post. My latest piece speaks about press censorship in India and the misuse of investigative agencies to target journalists. In the last year, I have reported extensively on the devastating COVID wave in India, and my exhaustive report was the subject of many international conversations, including the April cover story for TIME magazine. I speak about the fundamentals and essential values of journalism in many countries and at universities including Harvard and the London School of Economics. For more about me, find me on Twitter.
Sign up to have posts delivered directly in your email inbox. Much of the content will be free, and there will also be weekly posts for paying subscribers only. As I confront an onslaught of legal battles to protect free speech and dissent in the face of intimidation, I look to you for support on this project. Do subscribe and amplify.