- NL Sena
Amit Sharma alleges he was brutally beaten up for exposing a racket carried out by GRP personnel in Uttar Pradesh railway stations.
The consequence of refusing to bow down to police pressure seems to be police brutality. At least that’s what happened to journalist Amit Sharma in Shamli, Uttar Pradesh, who was allegedly beaten up by Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel while covering a train derailment. The aftermath of the incident saw the journalistic fraternity up in arms, taking to social media to protest the assault.
The incident follows a string of arrests of journalists over the last week. Freelancer Prashant Kanojia was arrested for tweeting about a video of a woman who claimed to have been in love in with CM Yogi Adityanath and was seeking a commitment from him. Two Nation Live journalists were detained for organising a panel discussion on the woman’s claims. Journalist and tribal activist Rupesh Kumar was arrested, allegedly for “Naxal” behaviour.
In the latest incident, Amit Sharma, who works with Hindi news channel News 24, was covering the derailment of a goods train in Shamli late on Tuesday. GRP personnel allegedly first pushed his cameraman off the track and then brutally thrashed Sharma. The video of the incident was subsequently posted multiple times on social media.
Sharma tells Newslaundry: “The railway police beat me up badly and took me to the police station. And there, everyone had a go at me. One of the policemen even urinated on my face.” He adds: “I want to thank you all for standing with me at a time when I feel so helpless.”
Sharma says he’s been on the “hit list” of the railway police and railway contractor mafia, identified only as “Nafis”, who allegedly run a vending racket—giving unofficial permission to vendors to sell products by way of forged licences and getting a commission in return—on trains passing through Saharanpur, Baghpat, and Shamli railway stations.
On May 11, he filed a report exposing the racket being run by the Nafis with the help of the GRP. “An arrest was made in the case, and on May 16, GRP officer Rakesh Kumar called me to discuss things. On reaching the office, I was first asked to give them my phones; they were afraid I would record the conversation. Then, the officer asked me to take ₹50,000 a month and stop reporting on this racket. I immediately turned down the offer and then this happened [the assault].”
Sharma, who has been in the profession for the last eight-and-a-half years, says he’s “faced the heat” from officers many times, but this is the first time the police “crossed their limits”. “I have been challan-ed under Section 34 of the Railways Act. The SHO and a constable beat me up like an animal, all the way from the incident spot to the police station. As of now, I have received information that the two have been suspended by the Uttar Pradesh police, but I am not satisfied with this action. I want the entire police station suspended and sent behind bars, as every single personnel there assaulted me that night.”
Protests by journalists
The regional general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Muzaffarnagar division, Harbir Malik, says he talked to the SSP (GRP) of Moradabad division and asked for the “strictest punishment” for those responsible for this brutality. “The SSP (GRP) has suspended the SHO and the constable, but we want an FIR registered against them for this unlawful act. A policeman is not above the law and should know what crime he has committed by beating up a journalist,” Malik says.
On Wednesday morning, journalists in Shamli organised a sit-in protest at the Shamli district headquarters, demanding the registration of an FIR against the guilty policemen. They also boycotted work for a day as a show of support for Sharma.
Senior journalist Narendra Kumar, who is based in Meerut, says such behaviour and attitude from members of the government machinery towards the fourth estate is not acceptable. “This is an effort to silence the voice of a journalist,” he says. “Today, it’s him; tomorrow it can be you or me or someone else. The government should think about the rising atrocities against journalists and that too by its own departments, like the police.”
Lucknow-based senior journalist Neeraj Srivastava has demanded that the chief minister take cognisance of the matter. “Such incidents require suo motu action by none other than the chief minister himself. Beating up a scribe for doing his duty is a serious offence.”
The police version
According to reports, the GRP superintendent of police Subhash Chandra Dubey reached Shamli and questioned Sharma and the accused policemen. He also ordered the registration of an FIR against the accused cops under relevant sections of the IPC.
Newslaundry contacted Dubey to ask him what action has been taken. Dubey says, “We, especially the state government and I, have taken this incident very seriously. GRP Inspector (Shamli) Rakesh Kumar and Constable Sanjay Panwar have been suspended with immediate effect. Apart from this, a probe has been ordered and is underway. Once we conclude the investigation, strict action will be taken against the culprits.
He adds: “It is too early to comment when the culprits will be arrested and sent to jail. We are working on the modalities to ensure that there is no repeat of such an incident in the future.”
Dubey says the investigation “is a must and a basis for further action in such incidents”. “Factors like editing of the video [which shows the assault on Sharma] are points that need looking into. We need all of you [journalists] to cooperate with us at this point of time.”
(The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)