Towards the end of the 'Hindu Mahapanchayat' event in Delhi on 3 April, a mob of attendees manhandled at least six journalists, with two of the journalists stating that they were beaten up by the mob.
I was among the group of journalists facing the wrath of the mob at the event venue, in Delhi's DDA Burari Ground.
The details of the incident have been published and reported on widely, and this story won't be repeating them.
Instead, I wish to write about the hateful and violent environment that had been created at the event that day, by the Hindu Mahapanchayat's organisers and speakers - and how those conditions clearly influenced the mob's actions and behaviour that day.
Repeated Threats Against Journalists Made From Mahapanchayat Stage
The 'Hindu Mahapanchayat' was being organised by the Save India Foundation (SIF) led by Preet Singh, which had also been involved in organising the Jantar Mantar event in Delhi in August 2021, in which anti-Muslim hate speeches were delivered.
Preet Singh had been arrested by the Delhi Police in connection to the hate speech and anti-Muslim sloganeering at the Jantar Mantar event. He is currently out on bail, and went ahead to organise another such event, the Hindu Mahapanchayat on 3 April.
The Mahapanchayat's agenda, which was listed out in its posters, was also remarkably similar to that of the Jantar Mantar event, as had been reported by The Quint well in advance of the Mahapanchayat.
Seeing that several journalists were attending the Mahapanchayat, Preet Singh repeatedly announced from the stage, "What is being said from the stage are what the official statements of the Hindu Mahapanchayat are."
And then, Singh followed that up with a clear threat against journalists by saying, "Anyone who is asking questions to people here, I am making it clear, that they (the journalists) will then be responsible for whatever happens (to them)."
Singh made this threat on multiple occasions, from the event stage, in front of hundreds of attendees of the Hindu Mahapanchayat.
Towards the end of the event, multiple journalists were indeed manhandled and assaulted by those at the Mahapanchayat.
Singling Out a Reporter and Turning Her Into an Adversary of the Crowd
During his speech, event organiser and Save India Foundation chief Preet Singh singled out Shivangi Saxena, a reporter from the news website Newslaundry, and remarked mockingly, "Shivangi ji, idhar koi hate speech toh nahi ho raha hai na?"
It was a reference to Saxena's reportage of the Jantar Mantar event in 2021, which had helped foreground the kind of anti-Muslim sloganeering that had been taking place at the event.
The comment made from the stage, and the mocking tone it was said in, clearly marked Saxena out as an adversary of the speakers and attendees who had gathered for the Hindu Mahapanchayat.
Right after his comment, one of the journalists approached me and said "We should all leave together after the event, along with Shivangi". His reason for saying so was the safety concern that Preet Singh's comment clearly posed for Saxena.
Minutes later, once the heckling and manhandling of other journalists present had begun, members of the crowd attacked Saxena's colleague Rounak Bhat and manhandled Saxena as well.
Saxena and Bhat wrote about the incident on Newslaundry, "The mob began to assault Rounak – he was hit, his glasses thrown to the ground, his equipment attempted to be taken away. One tried to pull his backpack, another his arms and legs. “Maaro saale ko,” they screamed as the PCR van left, delivering blows on the head, neck and arms. They dispersed as another van arrived."
The article continues, "Shivangi, who tried to film the assault, was then approached by four men. One grabbed her bag, another held her shoulder, a third held her hand in which she had her phone while the last tried to get rid of the cell phone. “Show your press ID,” they screamed. Another person finally snatched the phone. “Delete the recording. We won’t allow recording this.”"
Narsinghanand's Call (Yet Again) to Pick Up Weapons, Chavhanke's Speech Against Equal Rights
Hindutva leader and Dasna temple priest Yati Narsinghanand was among the prominent speakers at the event.
Narsinghanand is out on bail in connection with the Haridwar Dharam Sansad hate speech case. He was one of the key organisers of that Dharam Sansad.
In violation of his bail conditions, that prohibit him from making any communally divisive speeches or even from attending such events, Narsinghanand came to the event and made a hateful anti-Muslim speech.
Among other such remarks, Narsinghanand said that “40% Hindus will be killed” if India were to get a Muslim PM. “This is the future of Hindus. If you want to change this, be a man. A man is someone who has weapons and is armed,” he said.
Sudarshan News editor Suresh Chavhanke also made a hate speech at the Mahapanchayat, in which he said that Muslims in India should only have as much rights as Hindus in Pakistan, and spoke against the concept of equality. Chavhanke said that India should not be a nation of equality but rather a nation of Hindus.
These speeches were not about dog whistle remarks with the audience expected to understand the implied target of the comments. These speeches were full of explicit anti-Muslim hatred, intended to create further disaffection against Muslims in the minds of those attending the Mahapanchayat.
While Preet Singh was giving his speech, The Quint's Dhananjay Kumar was recording it. At one point during Singh's speech, towards the end of the event, Kumar says that three male attendees of the Mahapanchayat approached him and one of them asked him what his name was.
He replied, "Dhananjay."
Another attendee among the three then told the others, "Hindu hai...chhod do (He's a Hindu, leave him)."
The Environment and Its Outcome
From Preet Singh's threats against journalists to him singling out a Newslaundry reporter and mocking her, to the calls made by speakers to stock weapons and support anti-Muslim discrimination - these were the conditions and the environment at the Hindu Mahapanchayat.
Multiple speakers and coordinators on stage - Yati Narsinghanand, Preet Singh, Pinky Chaudhary - were all there while being out on bail in different hate speech cases, with Narsinghanand even explicitly violating his court-ordained bail conditions. Even the very event was taking place in public defiance of the police which had denied permission for the Mahapanchayat.
It is in these circumstances that a mob of attendees thought it was okay to heckle, manhandle and assault journalists who were there to cover the event.
Having covered the event myself and been manhandled by the mob at the Mahapanchayat, I can only look back at all the provocations which were issued from the stage, and by the speakers and the organisers that eventually culminated in dozens of frenzied attendees attacking several journalists who were doing their job.
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