The Delhi Police personnel who were supposed to protect the three journalists from Caravan magazine who were attacked by a mob in North East Delhi’s Subhash Mohalla neighbourhood while they were reporting earlier this week were in fact helpless and scared of the mob, the reporters said on Thursday.
The two reporters – identified as Prabhjit Singh and Shahid Tantray – were speaking at a meeting organised by the Press Club of India in Delhi. The magazine’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal, advocate Prashant Bhushan and author Arundhati Roy were also present.
Along with a woman colleague, Singh and Tantray were reporting on communal tensions that broke out in the area on the night of August 5, following the foundation-laying ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Singh said the mob started abusing them and told them that they did not need the media. He praised the courage shown by Tantray, who was targeted for being a Muslim. “Journalists are now being identified by their religious identity,” Singh said. “This is a very unfortunate situation...This [incident] happened in front of two policemen. Then they called more cops. They took us away by assuring the mob. The police were very much scared of the miscreants.”
After the foundation laying ceremony of the Ram temple on August 5, a group of Hindu residents reportedly shouted communal slogans and tried to intimidate them by tying Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh flags on a gate leading to the Muslim-dominated section of the neighbourhood. Later, when Muslim women tried to register a first information report about the incident, they alleged that the police at Bhajanpura station beat them, sexually assaulted them and tore their clothes.
Singh claimed a man who identified himself as a “BJP general secretary” told Tantray that he would kill him if he saw him in the neighbourhood again. The woman colleague, who has chosen to not be identified, was shivering and even unable to drink water, Singh added. A note written by her said that August 11 was a “traumatising experience”, but will not deter her from pursuing the stories.
“I urge all the journalists out there who are not afraid of taking on this increasingly fascist government, to report more on Muslims of northeast Delhi and document their bravery,” she said in the note. “I also thank my editors and colleagues who are supportive and courageous and from whom I learned good journalism, at a time when the media is in such a dark state in this country.”
She added that the courage of the Muslim women interviewed by the reporters was an inspiration for her. “Many Muslim women who reside in north Ghonda came out to help me and bravely asked the Hindu mob to back off as it was attacking me,” the note said. “As the media, we should do our duties fearlessly and pledge our solidarity to the brave women who are fighting for justice.”
Singh stated that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has neither condemned the attack nor disowned it. The police also did not advise them to get a medical legal certificate and said it was up to the journalists, Singh said.
Tantray said the communal slurs began as soon as the mob read his name on the identity card. “The man who identified himself as BJP general secretary kept calling more men and the size of the people grew,” he added. “I was called ‘kattua’ [circumcised] Muslim...They wanted to delete the footage. I was being beaten and then came two police personnel. I personally felt they were also helpless.”
Bhushan said that what was happening in the country and what has happened to the police along with other institutions was a “virtual collapse of the rule of the law”. The advocate claimed that mobs were now beating up journalists because they did not like their work, and that the police were helpless.
“The lynch mob is controlled by the prime minister,” alleged Bhushan. “In Delhi riots, the police have been seen on camera beating people, throwing stones and breaking CCTV cameras, they were the same fellows who beat students of Jamia, escorted goons inside JNU and the same people are supposed to be investigating the ‘conspiracy’.”
He said the destruction of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary was a “very serious situation”. He pointed out that the police have not yet registered a first information report in the matter despite the law unequivocally mandating that it has to be done immediately.
“There is a complete breakdown...this is the state of the police,” Bhushan said. “If we do not wake up now, we know when rule of law breaks down...there will be chaos and violence.”
Hartosh Singh Bal said Singh and Tantray are part of a team of reporters that have been investigating anti-Muslim violence since February. “They have been investigating relentlessly,” he added. “They have a pretty strong body of work. Two of the women [in the area] were sexually harassed...they were taking photographs of flag after the Ayodhya bhoomi pujan in the area. When they started taking photographs they were surrounded by mob, who were aggressive. At some point then, they called me.”
“We will talk about what the law demands [but] we know it is not going to be delivered,” he added.
Meanwhile, author Arundhati Roy said that in a democracy, two parties usually fight for power and there is always a role for the opposition, but in current India, there is an annihilation of this idea. “Propaganda machine is in the hands of Hindutva,” she added. “The idea of being unable to tolerate an Opposition is fascist. This hate-driven ideology has tightened its grip on every institution. [Both] people who support them [and those who] oppose them will self-destruct.”
The author said that all individual outfits standing against the regime should be saluted.