First Person

'Law won't protect sinners like you': Scroll.in reporter covering beef protest held for seven hours

Police at Delhi's Parliament Street station refused to believe that the journalist's press card was genuine, denied him the right to make phone calls to his family or a lawyer.

On Sunday at noon, as I emerged from New Delhi’s Patel Chowk Metro station, I was startled to find about a dozen police officers on high alert on the street outside. They were conducting vigorous checks of people’s bags. They weren’t looking for bombs – they were inspecting the contents of their lunchboxes.  

Last week, a group of students from Delhi posted a notice on Facebook announcing a demonstration outside the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters to protest against the ruling party’s refusal to condemn the lynching of a 50-year-old man in Dadri, ostensibly because he had killed a calf and stored the meat in his refrigerator. Participants were urged to BYOB – bring your own beef – and eat it at a “Beefy Picnic” on Ashoka Road.

The Delhi police, it seems, had been stationed at all the metro stations in the area to detain anyone headed to the event.

As a reporter, it was just another day in the field for me. I expected to see some posters and listen to some sloganeering. The police had other plans. I was stopped right outside the metro station since the policemen refused to believe that my press card was genuine. The fact that I wasn’t carrying containers full of beef failed to convince them otherwise.

After I was frisked, a burly policemen grabbed my hand and pulled me to the side. From the Delhi police website, I would later learn that he was Dinesh Kumar, the Station House Officer at the Parliament Street Police Station. After waiting for 15 minutes, another constable arrived with a smartphone. They started scrolling through photographs on the phone. From their conversation, they wanted to check if I was the one.

Checking Facebook

It would later become clear that they had found the Facebook invitation the organisers had created for the event, and were looking at the profile of the person who had posted the notice.

After they established that I wasn’t the organiser, Kumar let me go with a warning: “Unse mat milo, kaat ke fenk dunga. (Don’t join them. I will cut you into pieces and throw them away.)

As I strolled towards the BJP office, two people asked for directions to the BJP headquarters. One of them told me that his name was Gaurav Jain and it turned out that he was the organiser of the protest. He said that they had escaped the security check at the metro station by hiding the beef deep inside their bags. Evidently, the police search hadn’t been as thorough as it should have been.

As we were chatting, an SUV stopped in front of us. A group of policemen grabbed us and asked us to step into the car. We were being taken to the Parliament Street Police Station, one of the constables said. As protesters started phoning Gaurav Jain to ask why he had not arrived at the venue, I explained repeatedly to SHO Kumar that I was a journalist and I was only doing my job. He would have none of it.

Soon enough, we found ourselves in his office at the police station, where they made us write down all our details, surrounded by a scrum of constables and inspectors. There was even a senior officer from the CID who said he was investigating the case, but didn’t bother to ask or verify my credentials.

The fact that my surname is Jain was enough to enrage the SHO. “Today’s kids are throwing Hinduism into a gutter,” he said. “Is this what your parents teach you? That you go out and eat beef?”

My protestations were met with a command to “shut up” and threats of slaps and "dhaaras” (sections of the law).

After my repeated insistence that I was a journalist, he asked me to prove it. I gave him my press card as well as the visiting card, both of which clearly mention my designation as a reporter at Scroll.in.

“It’s all fake media,” Kumar said. He tore up my visiting card and threw the pieces at me. “I can get this made at home.”

Denied water, washroom

I was ushered out of the room by two policemen and kept in a sub-inspector’s office, along with Gaurav Jain and the woman who accompanied him. I was not allowed to phone my family or a lawyer. “The law can protect criminals but it won’t protect sinners like you,” a constable declared.

I pleaded to be allowed to drink some water and use the washroom. It was half an hour before I was allowed to. I wasn’t allowed to eat, or use my phone. We had to get up from our seats or sit down when we were ordered to.

Around 4 pm, I was called into the SHO’s office, where he sat with a police inspector who was struggling to turn on the computer. He was using Google to search for the term “Beefy party”.

The idea was to find everyone who interacted with the page and use it as evidence. Since they couldn’t find anything about me, they asked me to help them look up Gaurav Jain’s profile. I refused. This angered the SHO and he asked me to “get out” right away.

Finally, at 8 pm, the SHO called me to tell me that I would be allowed to go after writing an apology. “What do I apologise for?” I asked.  He replied, “Just do what we say and don’t open your mouth.”

The sub-inspector gave us another lecture on how we were a “disgrace” to the country and how the government wasted its personnel and time to keep protests in check.

No formal complaint

Almost seven hours after being detained, there had been no written complaint, no First Information Report, no paperwork of any sort that could prove that we had actually been detained. When we asked why we had been taken in, we were told that we had "offended the feelings of a lot of people” for which we would be “punished”.

After another 30 minutes of waiting, they finally let me go without forcing me to make an apology. But my press card was missing. I asked the SHO to return it to me. “I crushed it and tore into pieces,” he said with a laugh. He finally ordered one of the constables to fetch it.

He bent the hard plastic back and forth before giving it back to me. I was asked to “leave and run as soon as possible”. I got away with a damaged press card and a first-hand experience of strategies employed by the state to silence opinions it finds inconvenient.

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