On August 11, three reporters of the Caravan magazine were attacked by a violent mob in North East Delhi’s Subhash Mohalla, when they were following up on reports of communal tension in the area early this year. The area in the Bhajanpura region had witnessed communal violence in February and communal tension was reportedly simering after the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on August 5, by Prime Minister Modi.
Reportedly, saffron flags marked the gates of Muslim neighbourhoods after the Ram Temple ceremony. Women of the area also alleged molestation when they tried to report these instances in the local police station.
In this email interview with Newsclick, Shahid Tantray, one of the reporters of Caravan, who said he was repeatedly beaten up by a mob in the Hindu majority part of the area, talks about freedom of press amid the increasing attacks on journalists.
Did you observe any communal tension in the area? What were the stories that you were working on?
Communal tension has been prevalent in India for a long time, but it is no longer subtle under the ruling regime.On August 5, the day of the stone laying ceremony at the Ram Janambhoomi, saffron flags had come up on some gates in Muslim neighbouthoods. We reported the story on August 8 to highlight the communal tension in the area.
Prior to the attack on us ( August 11), we were covering a story in Subhash Mohalla where Muslim women of the area had alleged that their complaint was not registered at the police station and instead they were molested. In our follow-up visit, we were speaking with people in the Muslim neighbourhood and were hoping find out the Hindu perspective, too.
As we entered lane no 2 of the area that afternoon, we were confronted by a person who identified himself as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s general secretary. As we were taking shots of the flags, he interrupted us, and asked us what we were up. He went on to say: “Is this Pakistan, can’t we put saffron flags here?”
We tried to negotiate with the man, but we were forced to delete the footage we had taken so far. I was also forced to show them my ID card, after which the crowd was visibly angry as my identity as a Muslim was revealed to them. I was targeted with communal slurs and my identity as a journalist no longer mattered.
Following this, over a 100 people gathered in the area and the gates of the lanes were locked. The man who identified himself as the BJP general secretary was seen instigating women to attack me.
So you were stripped of your identity as a journalist and reduced to your religious identity.
What we see today is extremely unfortunate. Consecutive governments in India are hugely responsible for this. There is a long history of communal hate being spread -- from the Kandhamal violence against Christians (Odisha) to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots (Delhi). The State has played a major role in this mindset in the people. Now, the ruling BJP regime is doing this openly.
On August 5, the Prime Minister went ahead and participated in the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ram Temple, mixing the office of the prime minister with religion. Will Modi go for the inauguration of a mosque or a church? I don’t think so. He refused to wear the skullcap when he was offered. These are just examples.
So, to stop the secular fabric of India from being torn, the people will need to understand how all of this is happening under the garb of the religion.
What was the role of the police amid this? What is the status of your complaint?
Initially, two policemen were there, a Hindu constable and an ASI (Assistant Sub Inspector), who was a Muslim. The ASI had to hide his name plate, which speaks a lot about the situation, of how deep-rooted the problem of identity politics is. The policemen were also helpless in front of the mob, more cops were called in while this was going on and we continued to be assaulted.
While we were trying to file our complaint, a senior police officer told me that what we got in 1947 was not freedom, real freedom is finally here. When I asked him what he meant, he said now people can finally do what they want to.
Police is now an agency of the government, a spokesperson of the government, all institutions are crumbling.
Isn’t the police merely following the commands of the ruling dispensation?
I will give you an example, we carried a story about a boy who participated in Delhi violence from the Hindu side. He and others who participated in the anti-Muslim vioelnce, have repeatedly told us that the police was with them through this. The aim was to suppress the voice of Muslims and the rioters admit being successful in doing so. A video of policemen asking young men to sing the national anthem has been circulated widely. So, one can see that there is a massive influence of the (ideology of) ruling dispensation over State institutions.
It has been five days since our complaint was filed and no FIR has been registered yet. If this is the condition of a journalist with resources and avenues, imagine what it's like for common people. We have support from journalists, lawyers and from the civil society. What about those who are struggling and fighting against this violence alone?
Journalists are increasingly becoming targets of such violence. In Bengaluru, five journalists – from India Today, The News Minute and Suvarna News 24X7 – were attacked by mobs in the same week as you were attacked. Where does the freedom of press stand amid this?
Mainstream media platforms are no longer unbiased. There are only a handful of organisations who are working to report the truth. This includes the Caravan, NewsClick, The Wire, Scroll.in, among others.
These attacks are alarming and dangerous, as these are not sudden attacks, there is a degree of planning and thought that has gone into this. These people believe they will scare us into silence. I will personally say that I will not be silenced. We will professionally continue to bring the truth out before the people.
Even the attacks on us were not reported in the mainstream. Those who think they can stay silent amid this, I just want them to know that this fire will reach their doorsteps too. As for us, we will stay true to our journalism.
Also read: Journalists’ Bodies Condemn Attacks on Scribes in Delhi and Bengaluru