Three journalists working with the magazine The Caravan were assaulted by a mob at Subhash Mohalla, in northeast Delhi, on Tuesday, August 11. The journalists — Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a woman — were reporting on the harassment of the neighbourhood’s Muslim women by their Hindu neighbours. They have filed a complaint at the Bhajanpura police station, but the Delhi police has not registered an FIR yet.
Among the journalists’ organisations, only the Network of Women in Media (NWMI) and Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) condemned the attack. The Editors Guild, Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and Press Council of India are silent.
NWMI stated that the incident is a chilling indicator of the grave risks to on-ground reporting that journalists in India have been facing, even in the national Capital. BUJ released a statement expressing shock and demanded immediate action.
The journalists were taking photographs of saffron flags that had been tied in the area, when some men approached them and told them to stop. One of the men, who was wearing a saffron kurta and had a bandage on his arm, identified himself as a “BJP general secretary”, reported The Caravan.
Tantray had told a few media organisations that the team had gone to the area for shooting a video story when two men approached them and questioned their presence. “We told him that we had received a call that saffron flags were hoisted near a mosque. He wanted to know who made the call, and we refused. He threatened to kill me and the person who made the call. This man called more people and we were stuck there from 2 pm to 3.30 pm, with at least 100 people around us. When the man saw my name on my press card, he began to use expletives,” said Tantray.
Initially, a group of less than eight men had approached the journalists at Subhash Mohalla, but it swelled to a larger group when a man, dressed in a saffron kurta and with a fractured arm, contacted others and asked them to show up.
The group insisted that the journalists delete all photographs and videos they had taken in the area. When the journalists told them that they cannot be forced to delete them, the mob turned abusive. Singh said that when he tried to intervene, they kicked him as well. They hit Tantray viciously because he is a Muslim. He was beaten on the head but he escaped severe injuries because he was wearing a helmet at the time. Tantray eventually had to delete the videos.
According to reports, the midnight after the laying of the foundation stone for Ram Mandir on August 5, local men hoisted saffron flags in Subhash Mohalla, a Muslim majority locality. This had gotten several people in the area worried.
The arrival of two police men — additional sub-inspector Zakir Khan, and head constable, Arvind Kumar— did not pacify the violent mob. The men in the mob kept provoking the women in the mob to continue attacking the journalists. Two women began snatching Tantray’s camera. Ultimately, more police officials arrived to take the two journalists away from the mob. Even as they were being taken away, the mob protested.
It was after the journalists were taken away by the police that Tantray had phoned the woman journalist. She had tried to escape to a neighbouring lane. The mob found her as she was attempting to find her way to the Bhajanpura station. When a woman tried to help the female journalist, a group of 20 people, including women, began dragging her away.
At the Bhajanpura police station, the woman journalist filed a separate statement in the presence of a lawyer and a colleague.
As she walked away from the mob, “a middle-aged man in a dhoti and a white t-shirt, with a bald head and a slim pony-tail stood in front of me, opened his dhoti and exposed his genitals while looking at me. He proceeded to shake his penis with his hand and started making objectionable and lewd expressions, while laughing at me,” stated the woman journalist.
She noted in her complaint that when she was asking for directions to the station, she “saw a mob of 3 women and 2–3 men, pointing towards me and charging in my direction. I started running away. As I was running, I fell, and the mob caught up with me.” The attackers immediately began pushing her around while beating her.
The journalist said a man with a crew-cut hairstyle, who had rakhis tied around his wrist, pulled at her clothing to try and drag her inside.
“All of them started hitting me on my head, arms, chest and hips.” She recognised the man in the saffron kurta by the bandage on his arm. She had seen him as part of the mob earlier as well.
The police personnel at the Bhajanpura station refused to register FIRs against the complaints filed by the journalists as well. Ashok Sharma, the Bhajanpura SHO, told The Caravan’s staffers that the locals accused of assaulting the journalists had also filed a complaint. The Caravan mentioned that it is unknown what allegations the locals raised in their complaint.
Calling for a credible enquiry, NWMI stated, “The pattern of aggressive mobs targeting journalists on the basis of their religion and gender was also seen recently during the Delhi violence in February. This is a grave and serious threat to the Indian media and the democratic ethos of the country. The fact that such incidents continue also demonstrates the lack of political will to create a climate for free expression and press freedom.”