By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Protesting the assault on their colleagues covering the trial of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU president, yesterday at Patiala House Court by lawyers and a BJP MLA, journalists took out a March in Central Delhi on 16th February.
Around 350 to 400 journalists, including senior ones like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Siddharth Varadarajan, Seema Mustafa, and others attended the protest march and demonstration which started from the Press Club of India and proceeded to the Supreme Court of India. However, the police contingent which arrived soon after the march started did not allow the protestors to march till the SC. The police contingent walked by the protesters as they marched and raised slogans like “Delhi police haye haye”, while also demanding the resignation of the police commissioner B.S.Bassi for his allegedly callous attitude towards the issue.
A delegation of journalists met Home Minister Rajnath Singh to discuss the events that transpired on 15th February. According to reports, journalists, faculty members from JNU and students who were present at the Court were assaulted by a group of lawyers who claimed that their targets were “anti-nationals.”
Dutt, whose book ‘The Unquiet Land’ has just come out was heard claiming that the recent events and their coverage showed that there was a feud among journalists themselves over issues related to nationalism. When I asked Nadeem Ahmad Kazmi, Secretary of the Press Club of India, how he saw the issue, he told me that while the Press Club of India office bearers did not support the statements that were made at another event organised on its premises where issues related to Afzal Guru’s hanging were discussed, they condemned the attack on journalists, and the academic community at the Court. “Freedom of Speech is guaranteed in the Constitution. What kind of democracy is this where the media is threatened?”
Kazmi also stressed on the need for journalists to “unite” regardless of their differences.
Valay Singh, a freelance journalist who participated in the protest, told me that the logic “anti-Modi is anti-national” was unviable. “This seems to be an attempt to crush dissent in the country,” he told me. He also pointed out that the assault on protestors could not have been without the “tacit approval of the police.”
Ajoy Ashirwad, a journalist with Frontline, told me that he was among the journalists who had assembled at the Court premises. According to Ashirwad, around 50 to 60 lawyers assaulted the students and journalists. He also told me that female reporters were also beaten up and even sexually harassed. “Television journalists were especially badly beaten up as they were unable to leave their equipment,” said Ashirwad. He also told me that the police did nothing to save those being assaulted. “The police just stood by, watching the violence. I have heard of police standing by and doing nothing at times, but it was the first time I experienced it first hand myself. They were at least 200 in numbers whereas the mob was made up of only 50 to 60 people and they could have done something,” he told me, adding that “many women journalists complained of being touched inappropriately.” A woman journalist from NDTV bore particular brunt of the assault, he said. A faculty member from JNU and ex- JNUSU president Rohit Azad was also beaten up. “(I) was beaten up but that makes our fight even stronger,” he told me in a Facebook chat.
Akshay Deshmane, a journalist from Economic Times was also physically assaulted. He was present at the venue and narrated his ordeal. “Had we retaliated, we could have found ourselves being accused in the matter,” he told me.
A group of lawyers also marched and demonstrated their solidarity with the journalists. Kabir Dixit, one of the lawyers present, told me that they condemned the action of their colleagues. “This sort of an attack is an attack on the rule of law and the very foundation of the idea of justice,” Dixit said. The lawyers faced some tense moments initially as some of the journalists present did not seem to appreciate their presence but later they raised slogans of solidarity along with journalists chiming in.
Photos by Abhimanyu Singh