Undercover: My Journey into the Darkness of Hindutva recounts Ashish Khetan’s coverage of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in its aftermath. Written in plain, lean prose, it is a narrative tour of Narendra Modi’s “Gujarat model”, its systematised injustice, bigoted administration, communal policing, media and judiciary. Today, the model is an all-India reality and, as Khetan shows, it has faced little pushback or accountability over the years since the pogrom. The outrages committed at the Best Bakery, Gulbarg Society or Naroda Patiya, were amplified by a methodical subversion of fair investigation and disregard of evidence, lasting to this day, where the victims of 2002 were denied justice and came to be victimised many times over.
The following excerpt is taken from the chapter, “The Gulbarg Massacre” of the book. Here, Khetan stands before a court presided over by BU Joshi, and takes questions on evidence collected by him during a sting on the accused.
The defence first insisted that it would cross-examine me in the Gujarati language. I told the court that it would be in the interest of justice if I could be asked questions in either Hindi or English, the two languages in which I was comfortable. After much protest, the defence agreed to question me in Hindi, but not before establishing that I was a non-Gujarati, an outsider.
In its first line of attack, the defence asserted that my tapes were doctored.
‘The tapes have been forensically examined by the FSL and it’s the FSL that has certified them to be authentic,’ I replied.
‘You were in the habit of recording only those parts of the conversation that suited you, and deleting the rest,’ argued the defence.
‘All the recordings are complete. In each recording you will find that the recording begins much before the conversation starts and it continues uninterrupted much after a meeting ends. There is no way I could delete and chop as I wished.’
Every time the defence did not like my answer, the defence lawyer would start shouting, insisting that I reply ‘only “yes” or “no”’. At one point, the defence posed this question: ‘If you are shooting
a beauty contest on your camera and you inadvertently record a scene which you don’t need, then do you have the facility to delete it?’ The lawyer demanded that I reply with just a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. It was obvious the defence was trying to trap me with mischievous, even silly, questions. I replied that the lawyer’s question was unclear, as I needed to know which camera the defence was referring to. Upon hearing this, the judge snapped at me that everybody else in the courtroom could understand the question.
‘But sir,’ I said to the judge, ‘one can’t tamper with a spy camera. And since it is my spy camera footage that is in question, this is not a question I can reply to with just a “yes” or “no” without a detailed answer.’
At this, the judge flew off the handle: ‘You are a journalist outside, not here. Answer the court in a straightforward manner. How dare you to suggest that the defence is asking vague questions. Don’t think this is some spectacle. This is my court.’
For over five minutes, he continued to harangue me. The defence lawyer joined in the bullying with relish. ‘My Lord,’ he screamed, ‘you have just seen this man’s mentality. I’m going to further expose his motives.’ After ten minutes of theatrical umbrage taken by the judge and snide insults from both the judge and the defence lawyer, the court finally recorded my reply. Seeing that the defence wanted to drag the proceedings out, I asked the court if my cross-examination could be expedited so that I could catch my evening flight to Delhi.
‘Why,’ the defence lawyer taunted me, ‘don’t you like Gujarat? Spend a few days in Gujarat, why don’t you.’
The accused, seated in court, were thoroughly entertained, laughing along with the defence.
I told the court that I loved Gujarat as much as anybody else, but that the people present in that courtroom were not the true representatives of the state.
The defence counsel then asked me about my salary. I replied to his question, upon which he made the accusation that the whole sting operation was a strategy to make money.
‘I didn’t get a single penny more than my salary.’
‘You had made a fabricated identity card of Delhi University in the name of Piyush Agarwal?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but I didn’t use it for any wrong purpose. I just used it to check in at the hotels because I wanted to protect my real identity.’
The judge again became angry and told me to ‘only reply in “yes” or “no”’. I said, ‘Sir, it’s important that I give a small explanation.’ The judge started shouting again. Each time he screamed at me, the accused present in the courtroom would laugh out loud.
I was taken aback by the judge’s temper, which he seemed entirely unable to control. I kept telling myself that, no matter the provocation, I would not lose my cool.
‘Do you know,’ the defence said, going with the absurd line that the tapes were doctored, ‘there is a software by the name of Audio Adding and Deleting Mixture Software?’
‘I don’t know about any such software,’ I said. ‘Why have you not produced the full transcripts?’
‘I have produced the transcripts that we had prepared. Besides, I have produced the full video footage. If the court has any doubt, it must play the footage now in open court,’ I said.
But the judge refused and the defence kept on about the transcripts I had produced, how there were gaps, imaginary conversations and falsifications.
I insisted that the court must play the video footage to ascertain the truth of these allegations.
Seeing that their efforts to rattle me were unsuccessful, the judge and the defence lawyer became personal. The defence asked me why I had stung Hindu rioters, but not the Muslims who were accused in the Godhra train burning. I replied that, since the accused were all behind bars, I would not have been able to sting them. The judge refused to allow my answer, and once again demanded that I say only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response. It was clear that the defence wanted to paint me as biased. Judge Joshi then remarked that people like me could reach anywhere: ‘Tum log to kahin bhi ja sakte ho,’ implying that if I wished to sting the Sabarmati Express accused, who were all Muslims, I could have done so even inside the jail in which they were held. The defence added: ‘Who knows if you are secretly recording the proceedings of this court also. Maybe you should record it as it will come to your use in the future.’ The judge and the defence lawyer looked at each other and chuckled.
During the cross-examination, the defence asked me the details of my address in Delhi and whether I lived in rented accommodation. They wanted to know how long I had been living at that address. There were dozens of accused present in the court. To question me at length about my home in their presence was nothing but intimidation.