“I didn’t know where that kick came from. It caught me unawares and hurt my back. As I was writhing in pain, the attackers tried to snatch the camera, but I used all my strength to keep hold of it. I injured by neck in the melee.”
On Thursday, Shajila Abdulrahman, a cameraperson at Kairali Television, became an unlikely social media icon after Kerala’s Mathrubhumi newspaper published a photo of her continuing to shoot a Sangh Parivar protest in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday even after she was attacked by participants.
The march, one of many across the state, had been organised to protest the entry early that morning of two women of menstrual age into the temple at Sabarimala. This was the first time women between the ages of 10 and 50 had managed to evade protestors and pray at the shrine since the Supreme Court in September overturned a traditional ban on their entry.
In Thiruvananthapuram, protesters attacked mediapersons and damaged their equipment. Shajila, who prefers to be known by her first name, is being treated for back and neck injuries in Thiruvananthapuram. “I am happy to continue my job in a tough situation,” she said.
On Wednesday, Shajila had been assigned to get reactions from Bharatiya Janata Party leaders about Bindu Ammini from Kozhikode and Kanakadurga from Malappuram making their way into the Sabarimala temple.
After speaking to BJP leaders who have been on hunger strike for more than three weeks in a tent in front of the Secretariat at noon, Shajila was about to go back to office. “At that time a group of people began marching aggressively towards the Secretariat,” she said. “They destroyed the hoardings put up by Left political parties and started attacking journalists.”
When Shajila started to shoot this, the mob threatened her. “They had threatened to kill me,” she said. “I ignored their threat. But I was shocked when I got that unexpected kick on my back. It was the worst experience in my professional career.”
She said she was saddened when her camera got switched off during the standoff with the attackers. “I lost crucial visuals of their attack on me because of it,” she said.
After the violence abated two hours later, Shajila headed to the office. “I wanted to hand over the visuals at the office before meeting the doctor,” she said. “For me, it is duty first.”
Shajila joined the camera crew of Kairali Television – a channel owned by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – in 2013 after working in its desk top publishing department for seven years. “The management made me part of the camera crew after realising my passion for news gathering,” she said.
Since then, she covered many Assembly sessions, Kerala floods and political violence. “But I will never forget yesterday’s attack,” Shajila said. “Politicians should ensure the safety of mediapersons on the ground.”