On August 11, at around 2 pm, three journalists from The Caravan were on their assignments to report a communal tension in the northeast Delhi’s Subhash Mohalla when they were physically assaulted and threatened with murder by a mob led by the BJP volunteers. The journalists attacked in the incident were Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a woman staffer who was sexually harassed by a middle-aged man who flashed at her.
The Caravan has narrated the entire incident in a report based on the accounts of the three journalists. “Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a woman journalist were under attack, subjected to communal slurs, threatened with murder, and sexually harassed…Here, young men surrounded her and took her pictures and videos without her consent, and verbally harassed her. A middle-aged man exposed his genitals to her, shook his penis and made lewd facial expressions at her.,” said The Caravan.
The incident unfolded when the journalists were taking photographs of the saffron flags when a group of 20 men intervened and stopped them from taking photographs. A man clad in saffron attire who had a bandage on his arm, identified himself as a BJP general secretary.
“He asked Tantray for his identity card. The mob launched their attack upon realising that Tantray was Muslim. During her attempt to get away from the attack, the woman journalist faced sexual harassment from a middle-aged man who exposed himself to her. Later, the mob attacked her as well. To ensure the safety of the journalist, The Caravan is concealing her identity, ” said The Caravan statement.
The statement added during the attack, the woman journalist extricated herself to get out of the lane through a gate. “The mob soon locked the gate behind her, capturing the other two journalists inside. As the attack was ongoing, the woman journalist pleaded with the attackers to let her colleagues go, a man with a crew-cut hairstyle, who had rakhis tied around his wrist, pulled at her clothing to try and drag her inside,” reads the statement from The Caravan.
The woman journalist then ran from the site to take shelter in a neighbouring area where she was again surrounded by a group of young men. According to her statement, the men took her photos and made inappropriate comments and gestures at her. The journalist later reported the incident to the police who are yet to register an FIR against the mob.
Another journalist, Prabhjit Singh, who was part of the group was quoted by Caravan as saying, “A middle-aged man clad in saffron attire threatened them with his BJP connection, “Tumhari tarah fattichar patrakar bahut dekhe hai” (I have seen many wretched journalists like you). Main BJP general secretary hun, humaara kuch nahi bigaad sakte tum (I am a BJP general secretary, you can’t do anything to us).”
The team of The Caravan magazine was investigating an incident of communal tension in northeast Delhi that occurred on 5th August, the day when the foundation laying ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, took place. As per reports, a group of men tied Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh flags on the gate of lane number 2 in Subhash Mohalla’s Muslim-dominated neighbourhood. The residents complained about members of RSS using communally-charged slogans to provoke the neighbourhood.
The area is yet to heal from the communal tension that took place in February this year, where over fifty people died and many fled from their homes to save their lives, that followed after an anti-CAA agitation which turned into a clash between two communities.
Addressing a press conference in Delhi on August 13, The Caravan reporters narrated the incident to the media, accusing Delhi Police of ‘going soft’ against the culprits. Prabhjeet said he asked the mob whether they wanted amity with their Muslim neighbours, to which the mob said they don’t want it, and they don’t want the media to be there. “They were not bothered at all. They told us, okay, you can talk to the DCP or the Commissioner. Nobody can touch us.”
The press conference organised by The Caravan was also attended by well-known author and activist, Arundhati Roy and Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan.
The activist mounted a strong attack on Delhi Police for ‘deliberately’ going soft on the majority community and ‘enabling’ the attack on muslims in the area. Arundhati said that the current regime was intolerant of the slightest opposition to their policies. “What we are going through right now is a moment where a hate-fuelled fascist ideology that was brought here in 1925, has today been converted into actionable public policy,” she added.
Bhushan lambasted the ruling dispensation for enabling majoritarianism and ‘encouraging’ lynch mobs, which are ravaging the society both on the streets and on social media. He said that the attacks are increasing against people who speak openly and freely about what is happening in the country.
Bhushan also said the destruction of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary was a very serious situation. “There is a complete breakdown…this is the state of the police. If we do not wake up now, we know when rule of law breaks down…there will be chaos and violence,” said Bhushan.
The magazine’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal claimed that two detailed complaints had already been filed by the reporters, and yet no FIR has been registered by the police in the case so far.
Earlier, the deputy commissioner of police for North East Delhi, Ved Prakash Surya, while speaking to The Indian Express said The Caravan staffers had gone to report on a story and people in the area got annoyed. “Police safely evacuated the three…We got reports they were manhandled but nobody has suffered any major injuries. We will do an inquiry before filing an FIR…We do not have any information regarding why they went there,” he was quoted by the paper as saying.
Journalists condemn attack
The Network of Women in Media, India, a collective of women in media professions, has released a statement condemning the attack on the three journalists, Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh, and a woman staffer.
“The attack on the three journalists once again raises major concerns over the safety of journalists in India. Despite the fact that press freedom has been recognised as part of freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution, journalists in India are being repeatedly subjected to physical assaults. According to a report collated by the Rights and Risk Analysis Group, between March and May, 55 journalists have been targeted for doing their job,” says NWMI.
The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists has demanded that the Delhi police should act immediately and file an FIR against the culprits.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, has also released a statement condemning the attack. “Delhi police must thoroughly investigate the attack on three journalists with The Caravan magazine and hold the perpetrators to account,” it said.
The Editors Guild of India said in its statement, “The freedom of the media to discharge its responsibilities without fear or harassment is an important and indispensable attribute of a functioning democracy. The case of assault on journalists working with The Caravan shows a dangerous trend where communally inspired people can assault and harass journalists with impunity in the presence of an indifferent police.”
The Punjab and Chandigarh Journalists Union, and Press Council of India, too, have demanded from the Delhi Police, Delhi government and the Union government to register a case against the accused. The attacks against journalists this month were also reported in Bengaluru, where around four journalists belonging to India Today, The News Minute and Suvarna News 24X7 were attacked by the police. There is no respite to the unwavering threats and attacks on the press freedom in India ever since the new regime led by the saffron party took over the country. The impunity enjoyed by the right-wing mobs is also emerging as an unprecedented challenge in the country today, with police fearing to take action on people close to the establishment.