Tossing unwillingness to work on a Sunday aside, we had reached the Burari grounds to cover the second edition of the Hindu Mahapanchayat at 10.30 am. Hours later, by a mob, which also demanded our press cards – with our names Shivangi Saxena and Rounak Bhat. Other journalists were assaulted too and two FIRs filed.
But before the violence, a build up appeared evident.
As soon as we reached the venue, where around 500 had gathered from several Hindutva outfits – such as Hindu Raksha Dal and Hindu Yuva Vahini – despite for the event, there were elbow nudges, glares and murmurs. “It’s probably because I covered the hate speech row which landed him in jail,” Shivangi whispered, referring to the used by the Delhi Police as a piece of evidence to act against those linked to the Save India Foundation – the of the mahapanchayat who were also behind another event at Jantar Mantar in August last year.
There were other journalists from Caravan, Article 14 and Quint; some of them acquaintances from before. “Chalo, at least if ever we go down, we go down together,” one remarked. “I’m glad we’re not the only ones here,” said another. There were some local media personnel too.
There were five main demands at the event: population control, a uniform civil code, equal education for all across religions, and a control on illegal immigration and conversion. But this was a thinly-veiled mask for anti-Muslim rhetoric. As the event went by, we noticed several strangers following us everywhere, offering food and water, or seeking “journalistic help”. We put up our masks and decided to stick to doing our job.
The ‘mahapanchayat’ started off with a yagya, with participants aged around eight to 80 years, and inaugural speeches. The first speech was by Suresh Chavhanke, , followed by Dasna priest , who exhorted Hindus to take up arms – in an ostensible violation of his bail order in the hate speech case pertaining to the Dharam Sansad .
Sudarshan News chief editor Suresh Chavhanke and others at the event.
While the speeches were being recorded as we stood at a distance, Uttam Upadhyay of Save India Foundation spotted Shivangi, and came towards her with folded hands.
Preet Singh, chief of the Save India Foundation and the event’s main organiser, eventually arrived on stage to loud hooting and chest thumps, listing out the organisation’s demands. But he paused in the middle of his speech to say, “Shivangi ji, I hope what we’re saying here does not qualify as hate speech.”
Nearly everyone began to glare at Shivangi, and the murmurs swelled. We were standing in the first row, barely 10 feet from the stage, designated for the press. It was then that we decided to speak to a few more people at the back and leave.
But Meherbaan, a freelance journalist, came running, terrified. “Come on, fast,” he said, panting. “Some reporters are being caught by the police.”
We rushed after him to the parking-cum-entrance where a massive crowd along with police cars was present. We wanted to check for ourselves and confirm the information we had received on journalists being detained. While we were running – metres apart due to varying pace – there were comments Shivangi ignored on the way: “are you from The Wire?”, “I know you well…it was because of you that people began to know us last year.”
We were shocked as we reached the spot. A PCR vehicle parked, policemen present, a crowd of 15-20 persons was dragging Meherbaan while there were voices from the crowd: “They are not journalists. Search them. These people have weapons.”
We began filming but the crowd immediately came for us.
“There’s a lot of fake journalists doing the rounds here,” said one, while asking for Rounak’s press ID – he initially resisted but gave in as the demand grew violent. The card was snatched away, and another member of the crowd began to drag him to the police van. “Take him, take him,” the crowd followed in unison. Before the police could do anything, the mob began to assault Rounak – he was hit, his glasses thrown to the ground, his equipment attempted to be taken away. One tried to pull his backpack, another his arms and legs. “Maaro saale ko,” they screamed as the PCR van left, delivering blows on the head, neck and arms. They dispersed as another van arrived.
Shivangi, who tried to film the assault, was then approached by four men. One grabbed her bag, another held her shoulder, a third held her hand in which she had her phone while the last tried to get rid of the cell phone. “Show your press ID,” they screamed.
Another person finally snatched the phone. “Delete the recording. We won’t allow recording this.”
The police were standing next to her. “No one can stop me from making a video. I show my press ID card. But you cannot force me,” she said, expecting the police to help, in vain. Another person, who was part of the mob, came and said, “I know it.” The grip of the four loosened.
We saw five journalists, including Mir Faisal of Hindustan Gazette, freelance journalist Meherbaan, Meghnad Bose of the Quint, and Arbab Ali of Article 14 sit in the PCR van. Meghnad said he was being taken to the police station.
As we stayed at the location, police officials began to question us, and we, on our part, asked for the names of those who tried to incite violence at the event. We then left to file a complaint at the Mukherjee Nagar police station, where the other journalists were present, besides the DCP (Northwest) and SHO.
Mir and Arbab had suffered injuries and got a medical examination.
“Arbaab and I…were interviewing people. After finishing the work, we went to the chairs…Then a group came towards us,” Mir told Newslaundry, alleging that his camera was taken away from him. “A person in the crowd asked me my name...He further asked me where I had come from. I said Okhla…he said, ‘Accha, Jamia Nagar’... he asked me for my press ID.”
Mir said he did not have an ID card as he “recently started working in a new organisation”, but he had a photo of it on the phone. “Arbaab was also with me. I also gave them my bag to show there is nothing wrong with it…We saw 20 people…surrounding us. They started accusing us, that you have come here for an agenda. He searched my bag. The bag contained a list of Muslim names. These were the names on which I had to do my next stories.”
The crowd took the bag away. “"They started saying that these people (Mir and Arbab) have come under a bigger conspiracy.”
Arbab said police came after seeing the crowd. “Despite this, the mob started hitting us in front of them. pushed off. They were saying that ‘don’t give these two to the policemen, just kill them. These are jihadis, they are mullahs’.”
Meherbaan said he was standing at a short distance from Mir and Arbab, and didn’t go near fearing that he too would be targeted. “When I realised that things were progressing, I called Meghnad. Meghnad asked me to call the rest of the journalists.” It was then that he decided to run to the main stage to alert all journalists, including us, he said.
One of Meghnad’s tweets was later termed false by DCP (Northwest) Usha Rangnani. “Some of the reporters, willingly,on their own free will,to evade the crowd which was getting agitated by their presence,sat in PCR Van stationed at the venue and opted to proceed to Police Stn for security reasons. No one was detained.Due police protection was provided.”
The DCP said that will be taken for spreading “misinformation”. Two FIRs have since been filed. No member of the mob has been arrested yet.
The headline of this report has been updated.
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