13 August 2020
NEW DELHI, Aug 12: The Network of Women in Media (NWMI), India condemns the attack on three Caravan journalists- Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh, and a woman journalist. The physical attack on all the three journalists and the sexual harassment of the woman journalist, while reporting, are serious assaults and set back to press freedom. They are a chilling indicator of the grave risks to ground reporting journalists in India have been facing, even in the national capital of India.
On August 11, the three reporters were in Subhash Mohalla of Northeast Delhi to do a valuable follow up reportage six months after the Delhi violence in February. In an attempt to stop the three reporters from reporting, a mob assaulted them, threatened to kill them, and used communal slurs. According to reports ascertained by The Caravan, a prominent member of the mob was an office-bearer of the ruling party, BJP.
NWMI said that one of the reporters, Shahid Tantray was targeted for his Muslim identity and had to be rescued from a lynch mob. The mob also tried to force the team to reveal their source and delete their video footage and pictures they shot while reporting. The second reporter, Prabhjit Singh, said, in his complaint, that were he not present, “the mob led by that saffron-clad man would have lynched Shahid for his Muslim identity.”
In the shocking and reprehensible attack, the third reporter (a woman journalist whose identity is protected), was sexually harassed and physically assaulted. After the mob began attacking her, she managed to extricate herself and escape to a neighbouring gully. The mob surrounded her and took her pictures and videos without her consent, and verbally harassed her. A man, part of the mob, exposed his genitals to her, shook his penis and made lewd facial expressions at her. As the woman staffer ran and attempted to reach the police station, the mob attacked her again. The attackers beat her on her head, arms, hips, and chest.
The local police personnel subsequently managed to take the journalists to the nearby Bhajanpura police station. While written complaints have been submitted, FIR is yet to be filed.
The NWMI said that 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 recognized 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 Rights and Risk Analysis Group, between March and May, 55 journalists have been targeted for doing their job.
The pattern of aggressive mobs targeting journalists on the basis of their religion and gender was also seen recently during the Delhi violence in February. This is a grave, serious threat to Indian media and the democratic ethos of the country. The fact that such incidents continue also demonstrates the lack of political will to create a climate for free expression and press freedom, the NWMI has said.
The incident demonstrates the impunity enjoyed by political groups. These physical attacks are part of the ongoing trend to promote self-censorship, as it could act as a deterrent to journalists from seeking the truth, reporting from the ground, and doing their duty.
The NWMI has demanded that Delhi police immediately file FIR, file a case of sexual harassment, order a credible investigation into the incident and take immediate action against the attacking mob.