Mic in hand, cameras slung on the shoulder, journalists in Raipur geared up with heavy-duty protection while interviewing BJP leaders on Wednesday, after a reporter was allegedly attacked by BJP supporters in the Chhattisgarh capital last week.
The journalists, who turned up wearing helmets at an event where BJP leaders were speaking, said they wanted to send a symbolic message to the BJP government – and also fulfil a practical need in case they are attacked again.
On Saturday, journalist Suman Pandey, who works with digital news portal The Voices, was recording a meeting of the BJP’s district-level leaders in Raipur when party supporters jumped on him and thrashed him. Mr Pandey received head injuries.
Four BJP functionaries, including the party’s Raipur chief Rajeev Agarwal, have been arrested on a complaint filed by the journalist.
“I was recording a video of the meeting on my mobile phone when suddenly BJP leaders started arguing among themselves over some issue. Rajeev Agarwal and another person, Utkarsh Trivedi, told me to delete the video of the scuffle, which I refused. They then started hitting me and forcefully deleted the video,” Mr Pandey had said, according to news agency PTI.
“I was made to sit inside the meeting room for about 20 minutes. When I came out, I told other journalists about the incident,” he added.
Later, more journalists reached the BJP office, alerted the police and staged a protest demanding the arrest of those who allegedly thrashed Mr Pandey.
Chhattisgarh BJP spokesperson Sacchidanand Upasane, who was present in the meeting, said the party has apologised to Mr Pandey, adding it was a closed-door meeting to discuss the defeat in recent assembly elections and journalists were asked to leave the meeting room after taking initial footage. “Party leaders and workers were also asked to keep their mobile switched off,” he said.
India was ranked at 138 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2018, below countries like Myanmar and Afghanistan. The lowest in the index was North Korea at 180. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders had said India fell two positions since 2017. When the index was started in 2002, India was ranked 80th out of 139 countries surveyed.
(With inputs from PTI)