Two Indian Express journalists – Alok Singh andKaunain Sheriff – who were covering the sedition case against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Singh were assaulted by a group of lawyers at the Patiala House court complex on Monday afternoon.
The two were questioned as to what they were doing inside court and why they were reporting about ‘anti-nationals’.
They share what happened that afternoon.
‘Desh ke gaddaar, they shouted, went for my head’ – Alok Singh
The attack on students, most of them from JNU, and journalists had started when I entered the Patiala House Courts complex around 2.30 pm on Monday afternoon. I had passed through the security gate and picked up my bag from the scanning machine when I spotted some men dressed in black coats worn by lawyers beating a young man wearing casual clothes.
As they rained blows on him, they called him an “anti-national”. “Yeh Bharat ke against bol raha tha (He was speaking against India),” they said, as one of them held on the man’s muffler to stop him from escaping.
I could see police in the background, but they did nothing.
“Where are you from? Where are you from? Who are you?” they shouted. “Bhaisaab, I am not from JNU,” he replied. “Show us your identity card,” replied one from the group.
It was then that I heard more shouting from behind. There, another man was being assaulted by men who were shouting, “This one too…this one too.”
Apparently, they were targeting anyone “dressed like a JNU student”. I took out my mobile phone to inform my colleagues at The Indian Express about the situation. But then, another man dressed like a lawyer appeared seemingly out of nowhere and snatched the phone.
“You will not shoot videos,” he said. I told him I wasn’t recording and was only making a phone call. A third man, also in black robes, rushed over and slapped me.
“Desh ke gaddar (anti-national),” the group shouted. Within seconds, I was surrounded by at least 10 men in lawyers’ coats. They started slapping and punching me, targeting my face and head.
I remember screaming at them, “I am a journalist..I am a journalist.” But nobody seemed to care. After a few more seconds, they stopped but then another man dressed like a lawyer walked up and slapped me again. They kept shouting at me, “He recorded a video…get out of here…get out.”
Finally, a lawyer from the court came to my rescue. He stopped the assault, and told me to quietly leave the premises. I asked for my phone, which was handed over to me. The screen was cracked.
As I began walking away, I noticed a few journalists, including Aazan from DNA newspaper, being chased by a group of men in black. He was beaten but managed to escape.
I ran towards the policemen standing near the baggage scanner machine. None of them moved or even attempted to intervene.
At this point, I was in shock. I asked a policeman, “Why was I beaten? Why is the media being targeted? Why are you not helping?” One of them said with a stoic stare, “Leave before this happens again.”
I made my way to gate number 2, which opens out to India Gate, with other journalists. We walked out even as more men dressed in black came running after us. They were shouting, “Hindustan Zindabad…” The police quickly let us out and closed the gate. But those men in black stood behind the iron gate, continuing to stare at us.
‘You can only report on this anti-national? Shame’ – Kaunain Sheriff
I was standing inside the witness box, where reporters are usually positioned before hearings start in the court of Metropolitan Magistrate Lovleen, when I first sensed trouble brewing at the Patiala House complex.
It was at 2.10 pm, minutes before the hearing was to start on the police custody of arrested JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, and I noticed three men dressed in lawyers’ coats glaring at me and two other reporters standing nearby.
Then, all hell broke loose as at least 25 others barged in, shouting at students, teachers, mostly from JNU, and reporters to leave.
“Only lawyers can be present inside the court room. Vacate the seats and leave the court,” one of them shouted.
Soon, a scuffle broke out when a man, who was dressed in casual attire and appeared to be in his late 20s, refused to leave. Within seconds, they dragged him out, as over a dozen policemen looked on.
Soon, another man, again wearing casuals, was dragged out by the group. At this point, the court staff asked them to calm down but in vain. By now, the group of men had started shouting slogans. And then, the three who were watching us asked “all reporters” to leave. I refused, after identifying myself as the legal correspondent of The Indian Express. I showed them my ID card, too. But they still asked me to leave — I refused again.
Then, they turned towards another reporter who had entered the court. When he refused to show them his ID card, one of them threatened to drag him outside. Then, in an apparent fit of rage, the group dressed in lawyers’ black robes started verbally abusing the reporters. “You can only report on this anti-national, shame on you,” one of them shouted.
Minutes later, they got into an argument with a senior TV journalist, while continuing to call us “anti-national”.
Finally, I saw the police in action — but not in a way that was expected. More than a dozen women officers entered the room and tried to push the women students and teachers outside. As the situation turned ugly, the court staff requested all journalists to leave while the presiding officer stayed put inside his chamber.
I moved outside, only to witness The Economic Times journalist Akshay Deshmane being physically assaulted by the same group, even as police looked on. Then, Manu Shankar, a reporter with Kairali TV, a Malayalam news channel, was beaten up.
The group in black then turned to me, warning me to stop using my cellphone. They said they would throw me out. A few metres away, I saw a senior legal reporter with the IBN group, Amit Pandey, engaging in an argument with them. Within seconds, he was pushed on the ground and beaten.
One of the group then walked up to me said, “This is what will happen to you if you don’t leave.” On my way out, two of them saw me using my phone and tried to hit me. One blow grazed the left side of my neck. I ran into the chamber of a lawyer to escape the assault. They left me alone.