‘Why did they ask us to cover the event if they wanted to assault us?’

Kumar Chellappan | Jan 5, 2019 | 7 min read

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Why did they ask us to cover the event if it was for physically assaulting us?, asks video journalist beaten by Sabarimala activists

Kumar Chellapan

Thiruvananthapuram: Shajila Ali Fathima has been reporting on various issues as a video journalist for Kairali TV, a television channel owned by the CPI(M), the ruling party in the state, for the last 12 years.

As part of her job, Shajila has covered various stories from inaugural events to agitations and tense political stand-offs amid scenes of resistance and protest.

She was one of the few women journalists who reported the “infamous” brawl from the Kerala Legislative Assembly when the then ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) was prevented by the CPI(M)-led Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) from presenting the budget for the financial year 2015-2016. The incident was the denouement of the Bar Scam featuring the then finance minister K M Mani. Given her body of work, Shajila comes from that category of journalists who have witnessed the skulduggery in Kerala’s murky coalition politics over last decade.

A phone call on Wednesday evening from the organisers of the Sabarimala Action Committee (SAC) informed her that something important was to happen at the Secretariat entrance where BJP leaders were agitating against the LDF government’s police action at the Sabarimala shrine.

Shajila had no doubts about the authenticity of the call. “The person who made the call was known to me and being in the profession, they had helped us by giving advance information about protest rallies being staged in the capital city,” she told Newslaundry.

Following the lead, she rushed to the Secretariat where BJP’s state vice-president N Sivarajan was on fast as part of the party’s protest against the government for providing police security to women devotees, under 50 years of age, who wanted to enter the shrine at Sabarimala after the September 28 Supreme Court verdict.

Recalling the incident, Shajila narrates: “The situation was tense when my team reached there. Activists of the SAC were vandalising the flex boards installed around the Secretariat premises while some of them were pelting vehicles and passers by with stones. It was a scene not to be missed and we began to film. I could film some of the shots of the activists destroying boards and pelting stones.

“My assistant was holding the mic. Through the corners of my eyes, I could see the camera persons of other channels being hit violently by the protesters. They were shouting derogatory slogans, abusing us and ordering us to get out from scene. Suddenly, I could feel someone hitting with enormous force at the back of my neck.

“I was more worried about the camera which costs more than Rs 8 lakh and hence my priority was to guard the equipment. But they hit and kicked me with such a force that I lost my control and the camera was pushed down by them. Meanwhile the mic, costing Rs 50,000, was snatched by one of the attackers who broke it into two pieces,” she laments.

The Sangh Parivar leaders expressed regret over the incident, Shajila says, before she adds, “But what is the purpose? Why did they ask us to be present at the venue and cover the event if it was for physically assaulting us?.”

Sporting a neck collar to bear the “excruciating” pain, Shajila says she has no grievances against those who assaulted her. “It is all part of the game. But the assaulters should understand that we went to the scene to highlight their plight,” she says.

‘Punished’ for taking their job seriously!

New Delhi, the national capital, was no different in the treatment meted out to video journalists. Thursday saw three video journalists working with Malayalam news channels getting bashed up at the Kerala House on Jan Path. Video journalists---A V Mukesh for Mathrubhumi News, P S Arun for 24 News and K P Dhanush for News 18---were at the receiving end of the protesters’ ire.

Mukesh says that by noon, SAC activists, who are known to the journalists telephoned them to inform about the protest march planned at the Kerala House that evening as part of the hartal call against entry of women in Sabarimala.

“They told us that the protest demonstration and rally was scheduled for 6 pm. We reached the spot by 5.15 [pm] itself and got ready for the action. The rally began at 6.45 pm and there were only some 20 or 25 persons in the rally,” says Mukesh.

He adds that while usually, the protest rallies staged by SAC activists saw ‘Swamiye Saranam’ recitals, the handful of protesters this time were shouting ‘D** Pinarayi, go out and get out’, which was derogatory in nature.

“But still we kept on recording the event. When they reached the entrance of Kerala House, they burnt the effigy of Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister. This was unexpected and shocking. Once the effigy was burnt, they started pelting stones at Kerala House and at that instant the CRPF swung into action, and caught hold of one of the stone-pelters. He was hauled by the cops towards a Gypsy parked nearby and was thrashed by them. We saw a lady from the crowd running towards the car who flung herself over him, pleading with the police not to assault him. We filmed the entire sequence in the hope that if the person gets injured seriously in the attack, these visuals would stand as a documentary evidence for him,” says Mukesh.

He says what happened next took him and others by surprise. “The man who got released himself from the cops started attacking us. Arun and Dhanesh, my counterparts from other channels were assaulted and their cameras, too, were damaged in the melee. The persons who had interacted with us in the past continued assaulting us and abusing us using the filthiest language,” Mukesh adds.

According to Mukesh, this was the “prize” they got for being prompt in attending to their calls and filming the event.

“The person nabbed by the police was drunk. I can vouch for that. But, please tell me, why should we be attacked like this?” questions an evidently shaken Mukesh.

A video journalist who has put in eight years of work in the field, Mukesh recalls some of the assaulters accusing them as “part of the Marxist gang”.

“Please remember that such accusations do not have any face value. Had we been the Marxists as they claim, why would we rush to their events whenever they call us?” he asks.

Media at receiving end

The general feeling among the media persons is that the Sangh Parivar leadership should take steps to control their activists and brief them how to interact with the media.

“If they have any differences of opinion with the management, let them resolve the issue with them and not with us, who are always on the field, covering events for the viewers irrespective of caste, creed and political affiliations,” says Mukesh.

There were instances of many media persons coming under attack during Thursday’s Kerala hartal called by the SAC. This prompted the media fraternity in the state to boycott the two press briefings called by P S Sreedharan Pillai and K Surendran, the president and general secretary, respectively, of the Kerala BJP and another one called by K P Sasikala, president of SAC.

While it stands true that the Sangh Parivar needs to reassess its approach towards the media, it alone could not be blamed for the happenings that took place in Kerala on the second and third day of 2019. There are forces in the media which pursue their own agenda. The recent past has seen the media coming under similar attacks from the CPI(M) as well as the Muslim League.

Shahjahan, the reporter of Asianet, was physically assaulted by some of the hotheads in the CPI(M) and this was followed by the telephonic threat he received from P Jayarajan, the Kannur district secretary of the CPI(M).

CM Pinarayi Vijayan too could not wash his hands off charges of high handedness. The whole of Kerala saw live visuals of the CM shouting at media persons to get out from the venue of a meeting where the former was scheduled to meet RSS leaders of the state. The prime time discussions aired by news channels which are often anchored by former student leaders of the Left-leaning fronts have a discernible Marxist flavour, which calls for a tone down to keep journalistic etiquette intact.

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