But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
I am still here, and here I will remain.
Let us just say the last few days of my life have been… eventful. It does get tiring, I confess. It gets to a point where you want to give up, question the ideas of justice, of democracy. You feel helpless in the claws of a communal beast that is rampaging across India in the midst of this country’s election.
This week, I saw a caricature of Muslims with skull caps hanging from a noose; it had been posted to the Twitter and Instagram handles of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP. Another low ? I wonder what will it take for the world to stand up and speak; why it is that even news channels in India will not challenge this bigotry when they will dedicate multiple prime time shows to attacking me based on malafide allegations by Central investigating agencies, often let loose on Mr. Modi’s critics.
The government and the right-wing ecosystem has consistently maintained that neither my journalism nor my opinions matter to the country. That I am a nobody, that my articles in Washington Post and my book, Gujarat Files are as good as toilet paper. Yet on the first day of the high stake, Uttar Pradesh elections, the entire machinery of the state was unleashed against me. State-sponsored outlets, privately held news publications, right-wing social media users, prime-time debate shows, investigating agencies seemed to think that I matter very much. This was the same day the Mumbai police arrested two young boys for sending me and my family explicit death threats. This was the same day my mother had to cancel her flight to be with her mother who was on her death bed. My grandmother passed an hour ago, as I write this. I could not say my final goodbye.
You’re reading a free post on Rana Ayyub’s Substack, but we need your help. Subscribe now, and you’ll never miss a post.
I am very grateful for the Washington Post and the coalition of free press and civil society organizations who took out a full-page advert in the paper in solidarity with me. The United Nations itself followed this show of support with a scathing statement condemning my harassment, so of course the Indian government declared that the United Nations had tarnished its own reputation with my association. I ought to point out that this is not the first time the United Nations has reprimanded the Indian government based on its observers’ reports about this country’s mistreatment of dissidents. Most recently, the UN expressed similar reservations over the arrest of activists like Khurram Parvez, one of the stellar voices speaking on human rights violations.
Well-meaning friends from the media are asking me to ‘make peace’ with the government—perhaps by trying to initiate a dialogue with those in power. To these people, I have just this to say: if I could make peace, with not just Mr. Modi and his government, but leaders of India’s previous governments, I would not be in journalism.
I know it will not be easy from here on, and I suspect there will be more hit jobs, fabricated stories, and motivated leaks in the coming days. And I know there are days I will break down and lose hope. But for now I shall take strength in solidarity, not only from the United Nations, but from a huge number of journalists across the world. The front page of the Indian newspaper The Telegraph has my picture alongside a headline that read “Voices Rise for Rana Overseas”.
I have great faith in my country’s young journalists; many of them are not just incredibly brave but tenacious, refusing to be silenced by gatekeepers. I hope my persecution that is being televised and relayed does not intimidate them in their relentless pursuit of the truth.
For my readers, below this article I am posting the statement of the UN Special Rapporteurs. I am also posting an interview about my journey as a journalist and a Muslim in the country.
Your feedback will be greatly appreciated as I try to navigate my life and my journalism . My personal bank accounts have been sealed that mainly include a substantial grant from Substack ( a copy of the contract is with the government ), the sales from my book , Gujarat Files, my monthly salary from the Washington Post, the money from the sale of my studio apartment . All this has been attached to make me financially vulnerable, to handicap me, to abuse me emotionally, my credit cards no longer work; I am for now chugging along by borrowing money from kind friends and family members including my young niece.
But I will survive this. I have survived worse. In 2018, UN Special Rapporteurs wrote to the Indian government to protect me when a porn video with my image morphed on it was circulated all over the country, I was doxed, my phone number shared on social media that followed the worst kind of gang rape threats. Four years on, the Delhi police has still not managed to either identify or arrest the perpetrators that include members from the ruling party. This week I was notified that this case has been shut. Another battle to fight. But fight I will. That is a promise.