The aftermath of the genocide in Gujarat
has had a tremendous impact on the role of media persons. The mainstream
media, often accused of ignoring the fallout of tragedies, has in this
more than in other cases, pursued the story, often at risk of isolation,
intimidation and threat.
At what individual and organisational cost? Media groups,
ever mindful of advertisement revenue, remain supinely dependent on the
moolah rolling in. Hence Modi’s steamrolling efforts to promote a vision
of normalcy – the aggressive advertisement of a ‘vibrant Gujarat’ campaign
at the taxpayer’s cost – aided by the big guns of industry. But this has
been resisted by resilient men and women in the media, reporting on state
Even the central government controlled Swagat
magazine (January 2007) published by Indian Airlines and brought out by
the Media Transasia group, carrying a message from a smiling civil
aviation minister, Praful Patel, in its opening pages, gave ‘impressive
Gujarat statistics’ a glowing certificate. It made no mention whatsoever
of the growing suicides among the state’s urban business classes, the
agricultural crisis, and other issues, let alone life for 10 per cent of
Gujarat’s population, its Muslims, after the genocide.
But what of the individuals that make up the media’s
larger whole? Reporters and correspondents, editors and subeditors, who
have, sometimes at great risk, continued with free, fair and fearless
coverage in Gujarat?
CC salutes the journalists who keep Indian democracy
alive and breathing even when national human rights institutions and
courts slip into arrogant slumber. We bring you their voices, their
opinions, their life experiences. For obvious reasons, we protect their
"There is never any scope for argument or debate in
The support I received both from my newspaper and also my
colleagues, as a woman reporting on issues of the day, in 2002 and
thereafter, has been rewarding. My family, too, has been very supportive,
unusually so. So I did not have to face the struggles a woman has to
within the home. During the worst period of 2002, my family let me move
out of the house, and subtly, my colleagues protected me. A small thing,
my identity card and purse were taken away from the very first day, and
everywhere I went, a colleague accompanied me.
Now, there are two ways you can look at this, this removal
of my identity and personal protection. I looked at it positively. This
attempt to make me incognito in a small town like Vadodara where I had
grown up, studied, etc, and where a lot of the people knew me. I received
strange feelers, assurances from some local BJP leaders about my safety.
It was bizarre…These same people who knew the circumstances under which my
whole family was forced into a distress sale of our home of many years in
a cosmopolitan area and our move to a Muslim locality in May 2002, were
still inquiring after my personal safety.
An office jeep picked up my family and helped them move
away. I couldn’t be with them. They knew I was safe. Fed up with living
like that, living out of a knapsack for a week or more, I chopped off my
long hair. During those days I wouldn’t give out my visiting card to
anyone. Was hiding my identity cheating?
At that point it was survival. The anger and fear hit me
about six months later. In the immediate aftermath, reporting under my
byline or a shared byline, the nitty-gritty of being a journalist consumed
me. A little later, my objectivity suddenly became a question,
professionally, because of my religious identity. A couple of stories
soured my ties with professional colleagues. One about a murder in
Vadodara district which led to a boycott of the minority community.
Suddenly the local media fraternity and the Vadodara collector were upset
and even tried to tell me to stop doing such stories because of my
‘objectivity’! Now, that hurt.
In one sense I’ve lived with being a suspect since I was a
kid, since college when cricket matches would be played or I would be
picked upon during a college debate simply because I was a Muslim. I knew
how to give it back. I, unfortunately, was not, am not, a shy person and
picked fights. Having been a suspect for a large part of my 35 years, it
is something that I, unfortunately, have to live with. But not in my
profession – or so I thought.
Originally from Maharashtra, I did my postgraduation from
Pune. But I was born and brought up in Vadodara. There is communal
prejudice in both states but it is very different, the manner in which
prejudice is handled, the manner in which issues are tackled. For example,
in Maharashtra, a person with an RSS bent will have no pretences, like it
or not, it will be up front. It prepares you to handle it. In college at
Nashik I had a pracharak (RSS propagator) for a classmate, with
whom I had loud disagreements and arguments. But once the argument was
over we would walk together to the chai ki kitli (tea kettle) and
canteen and eat and snack together. In Gujarat, the prejudice will never
be spelt out. My neighbours in Ellora Park were very nice to us, we grew
up there, but they didn’t stand up for us. We had to move out to Binanagar
in the midst of the violence. There is never any scope for argument or
debate in Gujarat.
One learns to live by these norms and realities. In
retrospect, I did feel anger and fear but I felt I could handle it because
no one came and threatened me. It was my city, the city where I was
born, went to college, stood for student council elections and so on. In a
sense I also confuse the locals a bit because I don’t fit into the
stereotype of either the Gujarati Muslim or the migrant UP Muslim.
Personal relationships were sacrificed by the wayside in
the flames of the genocide. Persons dear to you stop talking to you
overnight. But then, I say, compared to what happened to others, this was
too small a price.
One of my closest relationships died an abrupt death. A
very precious relationship broke up when a person I loved, whom I had
grown up with, suddenly couldn’t handle my being a Muslim, after 2002.
This is what 2002 did and what 2002 brought. It wasn’t safe to be seen
with a Muslim, and some just couldn’t handle the pressure. People were
being killed, so there was no point in getting angry about this. So I gave
up a relationship that had meant a lot to me ever since I was a child. My
mother was also upset that I had to give it up. I had to pay a very heavy
price for this break. I have no energy to try something like this again. I
simply do not have it in me to take that emotional risk.
More than anything else, I feel scarred and unsure of
myself as a woman. In Gujarat if you are a Muslim, people forget you are a
woman. If I were to be raped it is not because I am a woman but because I
am a Muslim. My femininity has been torn from me. I feel my feminine side
broken from inside by the outside.
On the other hand, there is pressure from within the
Muslim community. After 2002, marrying a non-Muslim was out of the
question. Hell would have broken loose. I wouldn’t want to do something
like that. It takes attention away from what the community needs,
education, etc. I have younger siblings. So far my community admires me
and supports me. My family and all of us need and feel this support. We
are seen to be ‘decent Muslim girls’. If I were to take any step that
would disturb that, my family and I would have to pay the price.
So at the moment I don’t have the energy for a personal
relationship. I cannot trust a non-Muslim, or any man. And I’m not at all
sure that a Muslim man will accept me as I am. He would not be comfortable
with me as I am, a thinking woman whose profession means she has to
fraternise with other men, who works odd hours, etc. So while the
possibility of an intimate relationship with a non-Muslim man has been
given up, with Muslim men there is this fundamental problem. I feel too
tired to negotiate this politics of identity.
It is the innocence of your everyday life that has been
taken away. Even today when I go to my old neighbourhood, post office,
bank, laundrywala, I come back very upset, very disturbed. Then I
tell myself, listen, you saw, first-hand, what had happened to women,
children, men. The killings, the rapes… at least we are better off than
Now, five years after living in a rented house, we are
building our home again, afresh. My brother is moving on… my family and I
made it a point to see that while he was finishing his studies he spent
three months with close non-Muslim friends. He is young so we didn’t want
him to live in fear of the non-Muslim after what had happened, what he had
seen in Vadodara.
In between, I visited the UK for a three-month period and
had a chance to see how the Indian Muslim community in the UK lives. It
was an eye-opener for me. I felt better and good in India, even in
Things are too conservative there… I had to face questions
like, "How can a Muslim girl move around unescorted, without the hijab?"
No one, not even my mother, asks me these questions here, nor does she
herself live like that. Muslims there live in some other world; it is a
bit frightening. In India I can fight back, I can cry. The system, or
someone, will respond. But in the UK, you are being torn apart by two
worlds. As a Muslim, this is still the best place for me.
"The stereotypes and prejudices run much deeper here"
What are the pressures and dangers of reporting on
Pressures and dangers are there only if you allow them to
affect you and your work. From February 2002 till date, we at the TOI
haven’t allowed our reporting to get blunted. Once those in power realise
we can’t be browbeaten, and nor are we open to negotiation on reporting
the truth, they start looking elsewhere for support.
How easy or difficult is it to negotiate spaces in Gujarat
given the kind of administration and government there is?
It is challenging, though easy at times. Given the
autocratic nature of those at the top levels of the present government,
you do find bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and even competing
journalists who are more than willing to share information which would
embarrass the government. Our best sources remain the dissenters within
the administration and there is a whole army of them despite the fear
psychosis around otherwise preventing leaking information to the media.
Could you give some examples?
Entry to even accredited journalists to the Sachivalaya
has been restricted. Entry to the Police Bhavan was banned for many weeks.
The daily bus service for journalists from Gandhinagar is now
restricted. Ministers cannot speak to the press without permission from
the chief minister! Bureaucrats give information but don’t want their
names in newspapers. Earlier, chief ministers had weekly press meets. With
Modi, these are very rare.
What are the pressures or dangers felt by a working
journalist in a decision making position from both state and non-state
Tolerance of criticism among high-ranking politicians is
the lowest in the present regime in Gujarat. If you are seen as being even
mildly critical of the government’s policies, your access can get curbed.
But as a journalist, you can’t allow your decision making to get clouded
by these concerns.
How do you compare Gujarat with the rest of the country?
That Gujaratis are a "mild community" is a deception. The
prejudices run much deeper here, at least as far as other communities are
concerned. In other states/cities, it is still possible to find Hindus and
Muslims living together in a neighbourhood, same buildings. Not in
Gujarat. There is not much exchange between communities even on occasions
like Diwali or Id. The younger generation is growing up in isolation,
without any appreciation of the others’ culture, religion. This mixing is
not there even in some schools. That does not augur well for the
future. The only hope is that Gujaratis do not want anything to come in
the way of economic prosperity. There is a realisation that communal
violence does retard the progress of the state.
Could you elaborate?
The stereotypes and prejudices run much deeper here.
Atrocities under centuries of Muslim rule and invasions from the
north-west have been selectively documented by historians. These are
passed on to the next generation not only by word of mouth but also in the
form of published literature. The deep divide comes not only because of
different faiths but also because of eating habits, as Gujarat is the
cradle for vegetarianism. It is therefore much easier for politicians to
exploit these sentiments. While intolerance is all pervasive,
authoritarianism is a trait peculiar to Narendra Modi because it helps him
nurture that carefully cultivated he-man image.
"They tire you psychologically and drain you
The Gujarat government is infamous for gagging the press.
It particularly hates any and everyone with secular credentials. The
pressure, to be a working journalist and also be secular, is even greater
for vernacular journalists. To brand all of them as a loud vernacular
voice would be an injustice because these journos do have a voice, an
ideology and a conscience that sometimes gets killed because they work for
small managements. The pressures are manifold.
Number one is there is no free flow of information. In the
name of security, access to information and people is curtailed. It
becomes difficult to get the truth. Once you get the truth and the truth
is what the government does not like, there are sophisticated government
methods to distort the truth. In the case of Sohrabuddin (Sheikh), the
media took the initiative. However everyone knows of how media reports
Dangers? Ceaseless amounts of defamation and criminal
cases. In the past there were cases but most of them were not criminal
offences. Now the trend is, file a criminal offence. The journalist gets
tired going to the lower courts. They make you stand with criminals. They
treat you like shit. The level of judiciary and its competence in Gujarat
is a known story (and scandal). For one story…there would be complaints,
criminal offences filed from four different places. They tire you
psychologically and drain you professionally. I have about half a dozen of
them going on at various lower courts at this point of time against the
stories I have written.
Dissemination of false information is an important
portfolio of the Gujarat government. First the government never lied. Now
they never tell you the truth. So as you chase the truth, the pressure is
to "toe the government line".
Phone tapping, anonymous dirty calls, pressure to
influence your bosses, your peer, mud-slinging (typical RSS style),
character assassination… there is a constant insecurity, a fear. Freedom
of the press is an alien term. Often, the reporter may expose the best
story but the management or the boss is "bought over". Lured by government
ads, by private SEZ projects…an endless list. In the end, the journo ends
Selling one’s soul
Negotiation simply means a deal. A deal where you sell
your soul. There are cases of reporters being obliged with bungalows,
dealerships for siblings or jobs in some public sector undertaking (PSU).
The government simply wants to gag all critical voices. Editorial policies
are to emanate from the chief minister’s office…
Attempts to influence? By invoking religion and the son of
soil factor in the main… Are you a Hindu, a Gujarati? How can you be
anti-Hindu? You are a coward (at a time when the Gujarat Samachar
was totally Modi-ised… articles with names criticising convent educated
Gujaratis who have been educated abroad and have now gone ‘astray’ and
‘are following western culture’, apart from being ‘pseudo secular’,
abounded. By naming you, they tarnished your image and branded you. In
Gujarat, unlike in Mumbai or in Delhi, which are larger and with a degree
of professionalism, there is some anonymity... in Gujarat you cannot
separate the personal from the professional. The "branding" affects you
I have worked in Mumbai, in London and the USA too. In all
these other places, if you are right, the government is magnanimous enough
to appreciate and acknowledge this. You feel a part of an overall system.
There is a certain satisfaction of doing the right thing; here you know
you are going to be in deep trouble. There will be attempts to gag you,
starting from Arun Jaitley’s level to Surendra Patel’s level. "Managing
journalists" is an art that the BJP has mastered. When they are not able
to manage journos with integrity, these journalists become ‘pseudo
secular’ who are not ‘well-wishers of Gujarat.’
Under constant threat
Gujarat’s communalism is more neopolitical in nature than
social. At the moment, there is no ideology involved. Editorial courage
and independence are under constant threat. Modi has this particular
quality where he can convert criticism into a public movement. He would
demean the journalist instead of his journalistic work and publicly
pronounce the person or that particular media house or channel a villain.
For small and medium newspapers, withholding of ads is a
regular feature. The new media policy of the Gujarat government is skewed.
The Jansatta’s Rajkot edition has been closed down because of
massive ad cuts that make it difficult for operations. Government
advertisements are important for any normal, small or medium sized
newspaper’s survival and revenue.
Efforts are made by those in power at times, sometimes via
the journos and sometimes at management level, for a complete news
blackout. For instance, how many people have read about corruption charges
against Modi (though this is now expected to blow up in the next two
weeks), home minister Amit Shah’s murky deals, Surendra Patel’s obsession
with a builder lobby? These are all examples of news blackout.
At the moment there is a temporary unintentional pause in
the government’s relentless campaign to muzzle the press but that is
because the government is too busy sorting out its own rebels. Soon we
will see several media houses and journos ganging up with the government.
These self-proclaimed saviours from the media will, in the months to come,
stoke up hatred against all whom Modi dubs ‘pseudo secular.’
(As told to Communalism Combat.)