It was business as usual on Monday evening. I was out reporting from the field. Turkish President Recep Erdogan was being conferred an Honorary Doctorate by Jamia Millia Islamia and my colleague Aaqib Raza Khan and I were trying to capture firsthand what the students of Jamia felt about the university’s choice to felicitate a world leader with a questionable human rights record.
Towards the end of our Facebook live, however, things took an ugly turn. Within minutes, I was slapped multiple times by an officer of the Delhi Police – without any provocation whatsoever. Later in the evening, in a somewhat unusual but certainly positive gesture, the DCP of the region called and apologised, condemning the assault and assuring he was looking into the matter.
The following is an account of what exactly happened – and police’s various responses.
We were outside the Jamia campus, near Gate No. 8 of the university premises. Both the cops as well as the Jamia guards were around and knew that we were live.
Eighteen minutes into the Facebook live, the cops asked us to move from one side of the gate to another, pushing us in the required direction. But even as we complied with their request, they started pushing us towards the gate, asking us to continue what we were doing inside the campus. The Jamia guards didn't allow us to enter and started pushing us out.
It was at this time that we were trying to end our live because Aaqib – who was handling the phone – was being pushed around, the camera view had gone askew and was pointing towards the ground. As I tried to tell Aaqib to stop the live, an officer of the Delhi Police, Rajbir Singh, beckoned me. I asked him to give me a second as I turned towards Aaqib. Suddenly, Singh advanced and slapped me hard on my face. Multiple cops took hold of me and started pushing and shoving me inside the campus gate. Aaqib too was being assaulted and pushed in.
Three policemen were holding and moving me towards a police vehicle stationed inside the campus. The situation was seemingly under control, both Aaqib and I were inside the gates. It was at this time that officer Rajbir Singh of the Delhi Police came up from behind and despite the situation being completely under control, proceeded to slap me multiple times. Hard, on my face. Again and again and again.
Even if the first slap was justified somehow in the name of crowd control, what justifies Rajbir Singh coming and slapping me multiple times in a controlled environment when three policemen were holding me?
We were kept inside a police vehicle for half-an-hour. Aaqib's personal phone and the office phone on which we were shooting had both been snatched away by Delhi Police. They came later and demanded my phone too. I asked the cops – under what section of the IPC were they demanding to take away my phone? They had no response and allowed me to keep it. A constable who sat guard in the vehicle warned me, "Shut up, otherwise we'll beat you up again."
Later, we were taken to the police chowki inside the Jamia campus and then to the police station at Jamia Nagar. At both places, cops trivialised the unnecessary violence against journalists. Inspector Suhaib Ahmad told us at the Jamia Nagar police station,
Consider this like a father beating a son. This is a good experience. No personal grudges here, so move on.
Late on Monday evening, Delhi Police PRO Madhur Verma issued the following statement:
I have seen the Facebook video and confirmed from DCP SE also that there was deployment because of movement of the Turkish President. I have told him about the incident and complain of Sh. Meghnad. He has assured me to look in to the matter. And he will also speak to him through his colleagues in Quint.
Minutes later, DCP Southeast Romil Baaniya called me and apologised for the incident. He condemned the assault and assured me that the Delhi Police will look into the matter.
As a citizen and a journalist, I welcome DCP Baaniya’s acknowledgement that such an assault is unwarranted and regrettable.
My request to him and the Delhi Police would be to ensure that the officer responsible for slapping me is censured appropriately for an act that violated our laws and tarnished the reputation of the force. And set a precedent so that no reporter in the city has to face what I went through today.