ABVP and Delhi Police Beat up Journalists Covering Ramjas Protests



Journalists who had gathered to cover the protest march against the ABVP's disruption and vandalism of the programme in Ramjas College found themselves under attack. On the 22nd of February, the ABVP members vandalised the venue of the programme within Ramjas College by throwing stones and surrounding and threatening those who had come to participate in the programme. When students tried to enter the college to ensure the safe passage of those participating within the college, the ABVP attacked the students with stones and glass bottles, eggs and anything within reach and then turned their attention towards the media persons covering the clash. When the students and teachers who were attacked reached the Maurice Nagar Police Station to file a complaint against the ABVP for assaulting them, police personnel, who had removed their name plates, brutally beat up students, teachers and journalists. This has been widely covered by the media personnel themselves. It appears that the police personnel were ordered to use violence with impunity.

Journalists had reached the spot following news of the melee and by afternoon reporters of Hindustan Times, Ananya Bhardwaj and Heena Kausar, were attacked. Kausar had her camera snatched from her by some members of ABVP. After the intervention of the police, her phone was returned to her. Reporters of NewsClick, Apurva Chaudhry and Avinash Saurav, who were filming the clashes, were attacked. Their camera was broken and Apurva was surrounded by several women from ABVP and thrashed. Souradeep Roy of the Indian Writers' Forum was assaulted by several members in the crowd during the filming.

Associate Editor of Catch News, Aditya Menon, intervened when he saw women being assaulted in front of his eyes. He said, "I intervened and was assaulted. If that's partisan, so be it." Their report went on to state, "The Delhi Police personnel deployed at the scene tried to keep the two sets of protestors apart, but with limited success. ABVP cadres repeatedly broke the police cordon and assaulted the protestors, especially women. Prasanta Chakravarty, from the university's Department of English, had also been beaten up earlier."

Prasanta Chakravarty, a professor of English in Delhi University, was brutally attacked by roughly 15 members of the ABVP. He was pushed down, beaten and strangled with his muffler and he said,  "all the while the police stood as mute spectators watching me get thrashed." He was taken to the Bara Hindu Rao Hospital for medical care. Two other teachers of DU, Suvrita of Deshbandu College and Mouuomi Basu of Ramjas College had chairs thrown at them by ABVP inside Ramjas College.

Correspondents of Times of India, Somreet Bhattacharya and photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay, found themselves in the midst of this assault on students, teachers and now journalists. "First they tried to snatch my camera. When I protested, two-three cops suddenly kicked me from behind," said Chattopadhyay. "When I said I was from the press, they got even more agitated and started screaming 'maaro isko'," he recalled. "I was standing on the left side of the gate of Maurice Nagar police station when three-four cops snatched my phone and kicked me from behind," recalled Bhattacharya. "They tried to push me out of the way. When I mentioned I was from the media, they abused me and my organisation. Luckily, an inspector from the area recognised me and threw his arms around me. He had to scream at the cops to send them away."

Reporters from Times Now, Priyank, cameraperson Mazhar Khan, and photographer Anand Sharma were thrashed for helping women and other journalists who were being beaten by the mob. Shubomoy Sikdar of The Hindu was reporting on the students who were demanding an FIR over alleged ABVP violence. These students were detained and taken away from the Maurice Nagar Police Station in two buses. His report states, "A Delhi Police bus parked outside Ramjas College could have been used to detain and take away members of the unruly mob which attacked peaceful protesters who had gathered on the college premises. Instead, the bus became a platform to raise slogans for the ABVP members who climbed onto its roof in front of the policemen deployed there."

The crew of the news portal The Quint were attacked several times in different parts of the campus while they were covering the clashes. Taruni Kumar, Quint correspondent, was attacked but managed to record the incident. Anant Prakash, another correspondent of The Quint said, "They caught me twice and pushed me towards the bus despite my screaming that I was from the media. My cameraman, Shiv Kumar Maurya, was badly beaten up. He suffered injuries on his head. They snatched and threw my phone and cordless mic."

Pheroze L. Vincent of the Telegraph reported on the way in which the media persons were treated during the clashes. He said, "When the march began despite the violence, this reporter saw several marchers being cornered, dragged away and thrashed by groups led by DUSU president Amit Tanwar, vice-president Priyanka Chhawri, general secretary Ankit Sangwan, RCSU president Yogit Rathi and other ABVP leaders. 'MaroAISA wala hai,' yelled Yogit as he and his supporters punched JNU student Aman Kumar and this reporter at the Ramjas bus stop. When this reporter identified himself, Yogit apologised. 'We did not want violence,' he later told this paper. 'But this will continue as long as the communists try to turn DU into JNU. Anti-nationals and their slogans won't be allowed here.'"

When the Delhi Police was asked to respond to these claims of assaults on journalists and media persons, the Delhi Police spokesperson, Dependra Pathak, said, "Inappropriate and unprofessional action on part of certain policemen who were on law and order duty will be inquired into and strict action taken if anyone found guilty." He went on to say, “We agree that there were mistakes by our men. The incident could have been handled in a better way. There was no need to snatch mobile phones.” “We have told all the police officers that if people make videos, let do it,” he said. Meanwhile, the police has filed an FIR against unknown persons under sections of rioting and assault on public servants.

Responding to the series of assaults on journalists and media persons trying to cover the situation in Delhi University, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) issued a statement condemning the attack on the fourth pillar of democracy. The statement pointed out the history of assaults on journalists, "These attacks indicate a deliberate attempt to browbeat and muzzle the press whenever it tries to report violence by supporters and vigilante groups of the ruling party. An attack on the media is an assault on democracy. We demand an inquiry and punishment for the guilty. There is ample videographic evidence on the social media of the violence. We regret that even the February 2016 attacks on reporters by so-called lawyers at the Patiala House courts have gone unpunished. Delhi Police is usually only too ready to lathicharge, teargas, detain or arrest those organizing any form of protest in the city. In this case it did not use any such tactics to restrain the ABVP students who attacked those holding a peaceful seminar at Ramjas college.  On day two, when it should have been well prepared to ensure that no violence ensued between two opposing student groups, it permitted a riot like situation to go on for several hours. We are seriously concerned at the deteriorating law and order situation in the capital city and call for restoration of peace on the University campus. Such violence puts at risk all citizens and particularly journalists trying to report objectively on unfolding events.  It poses a threat to democracy, to the right to know and to free speech."

It is interesting to note that the DCP (North) Jatin Narwal, who was incharge of the police action, said no one had been detained. Students were carted into busses and detained for several hours before being dropped off at various metro stations like Viswavidyalaya and Haus Khas. Narwal, earlier DCP New Delhi, supervised the security when a mob attacked JNU leader Kanhaiya Kumar in the Patiala House Court when he was being produced before a magistrate. The pattern of violence unleashed on students, teachers and journalists in Delhi University is reminiscent of the crackdown on protestors a year ago. Now, the events of the last few days raises concerns among the people about the relationship between the ABVP and the Delhi Police.