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PEN Delhi and PEN International condemn attacks on The Caravan journalists

Friday 14 August 2020 - 10:14am

Prabhjit Singh Shahid Tantray

PEN Delhi and PEN International note with deep concern the attack on three journalists from The Caravan on the 13th of August, 2020.

At about 2 pm, on the day, a group in Subhash Mohalla, North East Delhi’s North Ghonda neighbourhood, attacked The Caravan reporters Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh, and a woman journalist (who asks not to be named for safety concerns), while they were reporting a story. They were beaten mercilessly, subjected to abuse and communal slur, threatened with murder and sexually harassed. The woman journalist was assaulted in the presence of a policeman who trivialised the situation when she called out for help. A full account of their experience as well as a copy of their complaints filed with the Delhi Police are available on The Caravan website.

According to the journalists, during the nearly one-and-a-half-hour-long attack, one of the attackers claimed to belong to the country’s ruling party, suggesting that he could therefore act with impunity. The local police station, the Bhajanpura station, refused to register FIRs (First Information Reports) against the complaints filed by the journalists. Instead, they said that the locals accused of assaulting the journalists had also filed a complaint and that they would have to examine “both sides’ complaints” before registering an FIR. They have still not filed an FIR.

"The attacks on the reporters of The Caravan magazine by a mob in Delhi are outrageous. The reporters were only doing their job -of accurately accounting for the horrendous violence that took place earlier this year in India's capital. The role of a reporter is to interview, observe, witness, and report. Reporters will operate in sensitive areas; suggesting that they should not do so, is preposterous. Reporters know what they should be doing and they were doing exactly that - speaking to all sides. Reporters often go to places where there is strife and violence - calming the unrest is the responsibility of the police; reporting failures is the job of journalists. The police should take firm action against those who assaulted the reporters and remove obstacles so that the reporters can do what they are meant to do - witness, record, and write the first draft of history": Salil Tripathi, Chair PEN Writers in Prison Committee.

The growing attacks on journalists are a serious cause for concern: a free press benefits all, the state and its citizens. This principle has been key to The Caravan, a journal that has been steadfast in reporting on attacks against minority communities, and in critiquing police inaction and complicity in silencing voices, including those of a free press. Should a police force stand by and watch people being beaten? Should they watch and not act when a woman gets sexually abused and harassed? The keepers of the law are tasked to maintain peace, and to ensure that people can peacefully carry out their work responsibilities, as the journalists were doing.