As police cracked down on protesters in Delhi during recent protests over the treatment of Dalits, who occupy the lowest rungs of India's caste ladder, journalists were caught in the fray. The protests were sparked by the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a student who had been barred from halls of residence and parts of campus, according to news reports.
CPJ has previously documented cases of police and security forces using harsh measures and jailings to suppress media coverage across the country, from the restive regions of Kashmir and Chhattisgarh to the capital, Delhi. This latest case raises the question again of how such misconduct-often unchecked-is able to continue in a country that claims the mantle of being the world's largest democracy.
Photojournalist Rahul M., who was covering one of the protests in Delhi on January 30, for the independent magazine The Caravan, says police beat him and broke his camera. In an interview with CPJ, Rahul, who goes by only one name, described the assault and shared pictures of the protest that he managed to take before his equipment was smashed.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
CPJ: Please tell us about events leading up to your assault.
Rahul: Vemula belonged to the same region in south-eastern India I am from. As such, I had been following the media fallout of his death. Back home, local news channels probed leaders of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organization, to see if they had played a role in Vemula's death. [Editor's note: The student group and government officials were accused of pressuring Vemula's university to take punitive measures against him. They have denied any wrongdoing, according to reports.]
In the wake of his suicide, an umbrella organization of various left-wing student groups announced a call to protest. I was covering a protest outside the Delhi headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the right-wing parent organization of the ABVP, for The Caravan.
I reached the protest late and startedtrailing other journalists, photographing and gathering information. I saw police charging at students. In fact, I remember pushing the shutter button, and capturing the police running at protesters when I heard the charge orders. The police started rounding up and beating the students toward the back of the protest. Many of the policemen I saw responding violently did not wear name-badges. A few minutes before the police aggression began, I asked some of the policemen why they were not wearing name-badges, to which they did not reply. I told them that I was a journalist, and that was why I was asking questions.