Ordeal by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat
Editors Guild of India Fact-Finding Mission Report
Attacks on the Media
Reporting can be a hazardous occupation in situations of tension and conflict. Its intrusive reporting of what some possibly thought would have better been allowed to remain a quiet vendetta, invited trouble.
Print and TV journalists told the Guild team of the harassment they faced from VHP and other activists. In Vapi, activists snatched the camera from an ETV crew but returned it later. In another incident an ETV cameraman, a Muslim filming a shop being burnt in Dakor, a pilgrim town, was taken away by activists but later let off. ETV received threatening calls for showing the severed hand of a Muslim man. This portrayal was deemed partisan. A Zee TV crew, filming a restaurant being burnt, was similarly attacked. On February 28, Muslim miscreants in Behrampura burnt an ANI camera and car and confined the crew in a State Transport bus for over four hours. An office of Gujarat Today in Ahmedabad was attacked and damaged. A member of the Guild Team had to deal with an excited VHP mob in the Ahmedabad Circuit House on April 1.
Ms Medha Patkar, the NBA activist leader is a red rag to the bull to many in Gujarat for her opposition to the Sardar Sarovar project. That, however, was no reason for her to be attacked by an unruly Congress-VHP crowd at Sabarmati Ashram on April 8 while attending a Gujarat peace meeting. The Police rescued her and was leading her to safety but then suddenly lathi-charged the newsmen covering the scene. The Chief Minister expressed his regret over the incident and appointed a one-man judicial inquiry under retired Justice S.D.Dave of the Gujarat High Court. He was to report by the end of April.
Barkha Dutt of NDTV reported of vigilantes armed with swords surrounding her car on a Gujarat highway screaming “what’s your religion?” Hindu, she replied, “privately cringing for my cameraperson, Ajmal Jami”. (Outlook, March 25).
Indian Express photographers were targeted and its chief reporter, Janlyala Srinivas, threatened. Its Rajkot man, Parish Joshi was mobbed and his camera damaged while photographing a shop being set on fire. In Ahmedabad, its photographer’s flash-gun was damaged though this could have been by accident when the police was trying to control crowds. In Surat, the Express cameraman along with a colleague from Sandesh and another media person were attacked by a Muslim mob. Kerosene had been poured on them but a passing RPF posse was fortunately able to rescue them in time.
Bhargav Parikh, the news coordinator of Zee News and Tejas Gondalia, his cameraman were beaten up and had their camera smashed in Ahmedabad. The Times of India’s Sudhir Vyas was beaten by the police in Rajkot. NDTV crew had to cry Jai Sri Ram before their vehicles were allowed to move.
Sonal Kellog of Asian Age and a local reporter of another paper were barred from entering part of Surat’s walled city where they had gone to interview a woman who had been attacked. They were themselves beaten and were unable to file a complaint with the police. (Hindu, April 9, 2002).
The Resident Editor of the Indian Express, Mr Virendra Kumar told us that the office van used for dropping night staff home was routinely and repeatedly searched by prowling mobs armed with swords and pipes looking for Muslims. Identity papers had to be shown. All this during curfew hours. A Muslim member of the staff sometimes slept at the office. Another, finding his house surrounded by a mob, phoned the office which in turn alerted the police. Mr Kumar himself received a stream of hate mail accusing the Express of being anti-Hindu. The tenor of what seemed like an orchestrated campaign was, “You have no right to live in India and write like this”.