Journalists in New Delhi were subjected to rough treatment, threats, and violence as they went about their duty to cover the communal violence that gripped sections of northeast Delhi.
A few days since the Shaheen Bagh sit-in commenced women in Delhi's Jaffrabad and Seelampur have also been performing a sit-in strike but unfortunately, these protestors have enjoyed a thin slice of media attention. On February 23, when Chandrashekhar Azad's Bhim Army called for a Bharat Bandh, the women of Jaffrabad and Seelampur decided to observe the bandh for it was anti-CAA and pro-Dalit. They were about to begin the construction of a small stage for enhancing their protest at 10:30 am, when the police intervened to stop the stage's construction.
In the meantime, the same areas saw the construction of stages where pro-CAA citizens had gathered and Kapil Mishra had tweeted around 3:00 pm on Sunday that he'd be coming to one such stage at Maujpur to address the gathering. Only after his address where he said 'if the roads from Seelampur to Chand Bagh aren't cleared until Trump's departure, we will have to come out on the streets' on February 23, did the violence begin.
Apart from lines of homes and buildings that were seen being set ablaze, journalists on duty were heckled, harrassed, and attacked by the CAA supporting mob which incited the violence that has been ongoing since the evening of February 23.
"Anti-CAA protestors were talking and discussing their issues with us but the supporters only frightened us by ordering us to leave immediately," a journalist who wished to remain anonymous informed The Logical Indian.
Akaash, a journalist reporting for JK24 survived a bullet shot at while covering the violence perpetrated by Hindutva extremists. Three reporters and one cameraperson working for NDTV - Saurabh Shukla, Arvind Gunasekar, Mariyam Alavi and Akshay Dongre were badly injured. Shukla was hit by lathis, Gunasekar lost three of his teeth, Alavi was hit on her back and Dongre was assaulted by the mob.
.@Saurabh_Unmute was punched and hit with a lathi, he is limping. @arvindgunasekar lost three teeth. @MariyamAlavi was hit on the back by a mob. The cameraperson with them, Sushil Rathee, was also injured.— Rohan Venkat (@RohanV) February 25, 2020
Akshay Kumar Dongare was assaulted by a mob. https://t.co/zfFbzqprE2
Even a few foreigners representing international media were present at the region to report the violence but they were made to leave, as per the testimonies of the journalists who spoke with The Logical Indian.
We reached out to a few journalists who were witnesses to the violence and experienced the bigotry of the mob who had thronged the lanes and bylanes of Maujpur, Babarpur, Chand Bagh, Seelampur, Jafrabad, Kardampuri, Gokulpuri and Shivpuri.
Wishing to remain unnamed a broadcast journalist informed that a 'banana chips factory' along with standalone shops were being set on fire as on the 26th of February. However, two days before, the situation was far worse as individuals who were visibly Muslim, donning skull caps and hijabs, were being attacked regardless of whether they were protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or not.
"Today (February 26) the area is under control due to the flag marches that were conducted by sections of the Delhi police and paramilitary forces. But yesterday, random passersby who were seen wearing skullcaps were being targetted during the assault," the journalist said.
Sreya Chatterjee, a former Senior Correspondent at NewsX, was threatened as she tried to document the incidents of the ongoing violence. "They first asked me to not record any videos and then issued a verbal threat justifying that my recordings will cause them to be arrested." She was present on the ground during the violence on February 24 and 25, closely observing the events that were unfolding.
"The Delhi police on February 24 facilitated the rioters. The next day, since there were prohibitory orders, they were mute spectators and displayed callousness letting the mob do whatever they wanted," she said.
Replying to former journalist Aditya Raj Kaul, who falsely implicated that the anti-CAA protestors were the perpetrators the violence, Sreya Chatterjee replied testifying that she was present to see the CAA supporters burn houses and shops down. "They started pelting stones towards anti-CAA protestors. This was before the anti-CAA protestors reacted," she had tweeted.
Yes! I was on the ground where Pro-CAA protestors burned houses. Broke shops. Started pelting stones towards Anti-CAA protestors.— Sreya Chatterjee (@Sreya_Chattrjee) February 24, 2020
This was before Anti-CAA protestors reacted.
Reading your thread, I had to say it is far from the truth. Here in Maujpur since morning
Aditya Raj Kaul, who was previously with Republic TV, has deleted his tweet but in the world of screenshots, his post has been documented.
@KapilMishra_IND should be arrested. Pro-CAA protestors came to me and said, "Yeh Hindu o ki ladai hai, aaj ar ya par".— Sreya Chatterjee (@Sreya_Chattrjee) February 24, 2020
They didn't allow us record by threatening us. They attacked each every Muslim who was not even a part of protest.
Didn't wanna right this, but had to!
In her tweet, the senior journalist also said that the CAA supporters came to her and sloganeered, "Yeh Hinduon ki ladai hai, aaj aar yaa paar" (This is a battle led by the Hindus, we either live or die).
Parvina Purkayastha, Senior Correspondent at Times Now narrated her tale of horror to The Logical Indian. "I was surrounded by five to six men who were in possession of bricks and hockey sticks. They did not know of my Muslim identity but wanted to attack me just because of what I was doing there - reporting."
She was sent to cover the happenings near Jaffrabad where she had assumed a 'neutral location' - one that lay between the supporters and the protestors of the new amendment in the citizenship law. However, even though she was showing both sides of the story, some CAA supporters gheraoed her and were almost going to beat her and the cameraperson from her organisation when she pleaded for her life and safety.
"Only after I begged for them to let me go, telling them that my colleague and I were merely doing our duty, one of the men agreed to let us go. After that, I ran for my life. I don't think any journalist should have to go through this," she recounted.
We shouldn't be seen running for lives. Attack on journalists need to stop now!— Parvina Purkayastha (@Parv05) February 23, 2020
I was doing my job and reporting facts, why was I cornered this way ? Why weren't police present there? https://t.co/f0Lkv4TQwA
As per Parvina, the police stood watching people getting thrashed. "They were in fact, enjoying chai (tea) at a chowki (police station) in the area," she stated.
A reporter from a news agency, who wished for his identity to remain undisclosed confirmed that the CAA-supporting mob in Maujpur had deleted 2-3 videos he had recorded on his phone. "The mob looked at me and yelled: wahi hai jo uss din record kar raha tha (it is the same person who was recording videos the other day), and snatched my phone from me to delete items from my gallery. Actually, I went to Maujpur for the first time to report the violence on February 25 and the mob mistook me for someone else."
He described how the rioters were saffronising 'news lives' by applying red tilaks on the foreheads of reporters. Apparently, scribes of the Hindu faith were given passage into certain lanes for reportage. They were allowed to enter after being marked with a red tilak.
"Now, we cannot report with large tilaks and go live on our channels. Some journalists tried to rub the marks off and they were caught doing so by the Hindutva rioters."
On being caught, he said, the reporters were heckled and beaten for not wearing their 'Hindu' identity and attempting to remove the tilaks that were applied by them. "They asked us: Tum Hindu ho ya Musalmaan? Yeh teeka kyun hataya? (Are you a Hindu or a Muslim? Why are you removing the mark?)"
According to him, the most shocking of all was the apathy and inaction on behalf of the Delhi police. There were also showers of abuses everywhere and plenty of masked men with saffron tilaks, brandishing iron rods, asking journalists to produce their identity cards for verifying their religion.
Some journalists were bullied into submitting their phones to the rioters, he stated. A few of his colleagues also had their phones formatted in the hands of the mob.
"A Muslim female journalist was walking with us to report the happenings when she was singled out. Luckily she had worn a kalawa (Hindu sacred thread) to shield herself from a physical assault. We acted as though we knew her and told the mob that she was indeed a Hindu," he said.
Many of the journalists that The Logical Indian spoke to firmly asserted that the Joint Commissioner of Police (Delhi), Alok Kumar, was present and silent throughout the violence.
A 22-year-old Muslim female TV journalist said that a Hindu woman in Bhajanpura threatened her to stop recording videos on her phone. The woman went on to question the young journalist about her identity and although she didn't belong to the Hindu faith, she had to lie in order to save her life.
"The woman was already angry about the fact that I was previously recording the events around me. When I told her that I wasn't a Muslim but a Hindu, she looked at me and said: agar Musalmaan hote toh batate tumko (had you been a Muslim we would have brought you to your fate)."
Owners of fruit and vegetable stalls were robbed. "In Kadampuri, I am a witness to how carts of fruits were burned in front of the police. The Hindutvavaadis were robbing and burning carts and distributing the stolen fruits amongst themselves," she said.
She also described that she did not find any Muslim journalist there and she had only mustered the courage to go into the area due to the religious-ambiguity that her namesake has. "The mob had an elevated sense of hatred for professionals representing certain news channels and portals. Journalists from NDTV and The Quint were bashed and abused in front of me," she remembered, "Iram from The Quint was pulled out and badly manhandled. I think they found out that she wasn't a Hindu by checking her ID since they were checking everyone's ID."
She alleged that the Delhi police just watched the 'tamasha' and did nothing to stop the harassment of journalists. "The rioters were throwing bricks and petrol bombs right in front of the police and they were turning to us and asking us to put our cameras and phones away," she added.
Nevertheless, most of the media houses whose journos were targetted and assaulted have stood by their employees in support. From Times Now to ABP, all channels who managed to capture the incidents of their employees being attacked, telecasted the footage.
Even the Editors Guild of India issued a statement on February 25 condemning the attacks.
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement pic.twitter.com/ezg28wgkb9— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) February 25, 2020
However, as 23 people are reported dead and over 180 injured after the anti-Muslim violence in northeast Delhi, the top leaders have done little to ensure peace. Only statements calling for calm have been issued from the Central and Delhi governments.