The Atlantic covers the campaign against me
My interview on BBC Hard Talk has attracted attention, good and bad
Within a week of my appearance on the BBC’s Hard Talk, a central investigating agency sent me a summons. On the show itself, I had spoken of a possible backlash, but just before recording the interview, I called my brother. "You’re sure I should do this, right?" I asked Arif, my elder brother and confidante, who would walk with me from lawyers’ offices to the offices of the income tax department and the Enforcement Directorate, where I was questioned not just for my international income but also for my relief work. Nauseating and repulsive questions like “Did you only help Muslims or Bangladeshi immigrants?” were put to me.
But that night, Arif told me, "Just speak your truth.” I took my anxiety medication, and the camera started recording my conversation with Stephen Sackur. Repercussions followed almost immediately after.
Yasmeen Serhan’s profile of me the Atlantic, published yesterday, analyzes the decline of the Indian democracy through the lens of my experience. But it also asks tough questions about the incarceration of less-privileged journalists who have been jailed just for doing their job. As I write this, India is participating in the Summit of Democracy hosted by US President Joe Biden. The Atlantic begins the piece by observing that "[w]hen Joe Biden convened his virtual Summit for Democracy today, Narendra Modi was among the attendees.”
The Indian prime minister is the steward of the world’s largest democracy. Any conversation about global democratic decline, and what can be done to reverse it, would be incomplete without his participation.
Modi’s involvement in the summit nevertheless looks odd—even awkward—considering the role that he has played in precipitating democratic decline. Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has overseen a steady transformation of India from the secular democracy envisioned by its founders into a majoritarian, Hindu-nationalist state—one that demonizes its minority groups, undermines civil liberties, and crushes dissent."
It further encapsulates my journey as a journalist that runs parallel with Modi's ascent to power. The profile by Yasmeen Serhan then says " To her detractors, Ayyub is nothing more than an activist defaming India’s image on the world stage. To her supporters, she is a rare voice speaking truth to power in a media environment prone to self-censorship. But Ayyub represents more than just a bellwether for press freedom in the country. As a journalist, a Muslim, and a vocal critic of the government’s Hindu-nationalist agenda, she represents many of the identities that are no longer tolerated in Modi’s India today. Hers is a story of what her country is becoming, and of what it stands to lose."
They say journalists should never be the story themselves, but we are living in a time unprecedented in the history of India, when we are forced to speak up for ourselves. To those who are trying to intimidate me and my family into silence, my only response is that if I could be threatened into silence by cheap, vindictive tactics, I would have given up long ago. At this point, I would also like to extend my gratitude to the foreign publications, journalists, and others who have had my back when Indian journalism organisations, our nation’s mainstream media, and many of my own journalist colleagues have looked the other way. Do read this profile and please do post your feedback. Your criticism and your love are important for my growth as a journalist.