Hundreds of journalists took to the streets in the heart of Delhi Tuesday to protest the violence against mediapersons at the Patiala House Courts a day before. Chanting slogans like “kalam par hamla, nahin sahenge” (we will not tolerate attacks on the press), they marched from the Press Club of India to the Supreme Court .
The protesting journalists also called for the resignation of Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi over the inaction of the policemen who had remained silent spectators as journalists, teachers and students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were attacked by lawyers during the bail hearing of JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, arrested on charges of sedition.
Demanding that the government and police “stand up and defend the right to report,” several senior journalists expressed concern about the assault and said the future of journalism in the country would be severely threatened unless steps were taken to prevent such incidents.
Veteran journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the participants, said, “There’s a saying…patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. The ABVP, affiliated groups and members of the government are throwing around the word anti-national and preventing reporters, whose duty it is to inform the public, from doing their job, which is to report on a matter that affects several people in this country.”
“If Kanhaiya is being arrested on the basis of a video that clearly proves that his remarks were not seditious and no action is being taken against O P Sharma (BJP MLA from Delhi) and Advocate Vikram Singh Chauhan, who were captured on video beating up reporters, then the bias of the police in the capital is apparent,” said a group of journalists at the march.
Veteran journalist Siddharth Vardarajan said the protesting journalists were not demanding “anything special”. “We are asking police to take note of… the basic right of anyone going to court, for whatever work they may have. As an editor, if I am sending a reporter out to cover news, both the reporter and I have the right to expect that there will be no violence against someone who is just doing their job,” he said.
Referring to the sedition charge that Kanhaiya Kumar is facing, he said, “In my view, the sedition law itself should be done away with, but the fact that this law is now entering university campuses makes for a very grim future. If student discussions and classroom discussions with differing opinions are going to be the subject of sedition laws, what sort of an academic environment are we creating? Introducing the law of sedition on a campus is the greatest disservice that the police and the current government have done to this country”.
A group of lawyers also participated in the march and carried placards that read “we are here to demand the protection of the sanctity of law.”
One of the lawyers, Tarik Abeeb, said, “Even people who have committed the most heinous crimes have the right to walk into a court without the fear of being harmed. The fact that journalists have been attacked by people for doing their duty is terrible and completely against the sanctity of the law. We urge the apex court to seriously look into what transpired on Monday and restore an environment where the law can take its own course”.
However, the march was brought to a halt before the designated end point as the Delhi Police had barricaded the road leading to the Supreme Court.
A delegation of the Indian Women’s Press Corps and affected journalists met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh Tuesday and urged him to take action against those who assaulted journalists at the Patiala House courts in New Delhi a day earlier.
“…We urge your intervention … there should be some accountability of the Delhi Police who watched silently as the assault happened. And secondly, as there were CCTV cameras where the incident of assault must have been recorded, we demand that the perpetrators of the assault be brought to book at the earliest,” stated a memorandum handed by the delegation.