It was a cold and foggy Sunday afternoon, but the protesters had assembled at India Gate to vent out their anguish against the system that led to the brutal rape of a 23-year-old paramedic student. I was trying to figure out how to reach India Gate when I got a call from my bureau chief Saikat Datta that our photographer Money Sharma has been hit on the head by a stone ostensibly thrown by the police.
As Money’s mobile was not responding, I, along with a fellow journalist, decided to immediately move from Vijay Chowk to India Gate. The only possible way was to walk as the police had barricaded all roads leading to India Gate.
After 20 minutes of brisk walk, we reached the outer circle of India Gate that resembled nothing short of a battleground. A keen eye could easily discern that there were four kinds of elements — youth activists belonging to students’ unions and NGOs, concerned commoners, including young college kids and office-goers, both well meaning wanting credible action from the government, lumpen youth and riot gear-clad police almost equalling the strength of protesters.
A call from Money relieved me of the trouble and responsibility to locate and rescue him. “I’m okay now. Was hit by a stone on the head that left me unconscious for some time. Now I am at a safe distance and will head home after filing pictures,” he said, requesting me to not to venture further.
But which journalist worth his or her salt could have resisted the temptation to be in the thick of things. After all, we are humble chroniclers of history.
I, along with my friend, reached the hotspot — beginning of the intersection from India Gate where Rajpath starts. On one side, there was a posse of riot gear-clad posse of hundreds of policemen armed with tear gas guns, water cannons, lathis and rifles loaded with rubber bullets and on the other, there was a swarming crowd of protesters eager to push ahead towards Raisina Hill, the power centre of India.
Amid the crowd of peaceful protesters were those who had joined in for fun and some who belonged to a political party that perhaps wanted violence to happen for political gains.
The lumpen crowd had pulled out hundreds of wooden poles to make bonfires and were on a rampage damaging movable iron barriers put to hold back the crowd. Their violent ways, apparently, were also egging on others too. Yet somehow the status-quo was being maintained.
After milling in the crowd for a while, I decided to come out and watch it from a safe distance. It was abhorring, rowdy elements within the protesting crowd were molesting women and girls. Suddenly, a group of lumpen provoked the police. They pushed and pelted stones at the cops. The police gave a warning, water cannons came into action and suddenly the restless cops armed with lathis charged towards the protesters.
The clever lumpen youth and those from the political outfits were already running away. But the actual peaceful protesters were late to realise. Journalists too glued to chronicle the history stood the ground. I was one of them.
Soon, rampaging police, raining blows of lathis on innocent peacefully protesting crowds reached where I was. I waved my notebook and pen... I’m a journalist, I said.
But the laathi proved mightier than the sword. Without warning came the first blow, on my leg. The next moment I was on the ground. “Saale patrakar,” I heard a war cry and within a micro second, four cops started raining blows on me. I dug my head deep in the ground, yelling don’t hit me, but nothing would stop them.
Fortunately, a sub-inspector recognised me. I had spoken to him minutes ago. “Leave him, he is a harmless journalist,” he ordered and the laathis stopped. “Run to a safe place,” he said.
In excruciating pain I limped towards an OB van. Minutes later, my friend was escorting me in an ambulance to hospital. On a stretcher, I saw fellow patients, including many policemen who were bleeding profusely.
Amid moans and groans in the emergency ward, I wondered what had happened to the cause? Will all this help prevent rapes and atrocities against women? Or do we all need to be more civilised?