Born in Mumbai in 1984, Rana Ayyub is an independent investigative journalist from India and one of the most important voices from South Asia. Having previously worked as a journalist at Tehelka, she was forced to resign from the magazine on November, 2013 in order to protest against the organization’s handling of a sexual assault charge against its editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal. At present she is global opinions writer for The Washington Post. She has also worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with some of the most important media publications in India and internationally. Her pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Foreign Policy among other publications. But her most striking work till date had been a report on the investigation around the anti-Muslim pogrom of Gujarat in 2002 and extrajudicial killings by the state. The report has been listed by Outlook Magazine as one of the twenty greatest magazine stories of all times across the world. The report was self-published as a book entitled Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up in 2016. This book came about after intensive investigations undertaken by Rana Ayyub.
By posing as Maithili Tyagi, a US-based film-maker and a student of American Film Institute subscribing to the Rashtriya Swamaksevak Sangh’s ideology, Ayyub managed to get access to senior police officers, bureaucrats, and politicians in Gujarat. She even managed to meet Narendra Modi in her Maithili Tyagi disguise.
During her 8 month long undercover investigation she managed to document the verbatim transcripts of recordings, made using a concealed recording device, of many bureaucrats and police officers of Gujarat, revealing their views on the Gujarat 2002 riots and police encounter killings. Reflecting on the procedure used by Ayyub in composing Gujarat Files, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay has observed: “Going undercover and interviewing many who had been in the thick of gruesome extra-constitutional operations required bravado and this must be appreciated.” She had been the recipient of the Global Shining Light award for Investigative journalism in the year 2017 and the Most Resilient Global Journalist of 2018 at the Peace Palace in Hague. She has also been named by Time magazine among ten global journalists who face maximum threats to their lives.
This is a woman who has been at the receiving end of vitriolic hate, humiliation and threats. She has been subject to slut-shaming, threats of gang rape, had her face digitally added to a porn video shared on social media, trolled and abused on Twitter on a regular basis. On April 22, 2018, a quotation supporting child rapists was falsely attributed to her. It was posted by a parody account of Republic TV, India’s leading right-wing television network. She received several messages shaming her for supporting child rapists. A Facebook page called Yogi Adityanath Ki Sena, or the Army of Yogi Adityanath, translated the tweet into Hindi and circulated it on social media.
But all these haven’t been able to deter her spirit.
However, such mettle was not built in a day. At the age of five, Rana had contracted polio which left her with an immobility in her left hand and right leg, from which she eventually went on to recover. Four years later, in the midst of fear gripping the city of Bombay during the 1992 riots, Rana and her sister moved in with a neighbour, pretending to be Hindu girls. They were separated from their parents with no communication for more than a month. Her social media accounts and her phone were inundated with WhatsApp messages urging others to gang-rape her. The following day, on April 23, another tweet was generated using Photoshop and attributed to her. It said, “I hate India and Indians.” Rana Ayyub writes for The New York Times, “The online mob asked me to pack my bags and leave for Pakistan, some threatened to tear my clothes and drag me out of the country while invoking the genocidal violence between Hindus and Muslims during the partition of India in 1947.”
In an interview taken by Emilie Gambade for Magzter.com, Rana Ayyub recounts,
“Since that time, I’ve lived in a great deal of fear. ‘We were often told the men might abduct you; the men might do something to you’ and that stayed with me. It stayed with me to an extent that I feared all men. I went to a girls’ school, a girls’ college, and one day my principal called my mother and told her, ‘Your daughter can’t study because she’s so weak, she’s so scared, she won’t talk to anyone. She’s bright but she’s too shy.”
Rana eventually became deeply interested in social and political issues, and joined a journalism school, producing her first movie in 2006, which focused on Muslim institutions. Even though she was condemned for reporting on terrorism in college, Rana was soon hired by a television channel, where, on her first day she was told, “women don’t do political stuff.” They told her that she should instead cover lifestyle, or rape incidents at most.
From that day onwards began a life of defiance. She went on to win numerous awards and accolades for her path-breaking journalism, the recent one being the 2020 McGill Medal for journalistic courage. She will be receiving the medal on April 22 at a ceremony in the Peyton Anderson Forum at Grady College.
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