Ram Rahim's supporters tried to kill us: Journalists recall the mayhem at Panchkula
As Panchkula burnt on Friday, journalists became the targets for Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's followers. Reporters, video journalists, drivers of media vehicles were attacked by armed Dera followers. Media vehicles were burnt down, staff were assaulted and it was nothing short of a nightmare. This is what journalists reporting on Ram Rahim's verdict went through in Haryana.
Ashutosh Mishra, a journalist with India Today television was on live camera when supporters of Dera pelted stones and sticks at his car. The entire attack was recorded on camera. Speaking to OneIndia, Ashutosh explained how the attack unfolded.
"They tried to kill us. We headed to Dera headquarters for a ground report after the verdict. Supporters were standing on both sides of the road and at that point, I did not realise that they were carrying weapons. As we approached the headquarters I saw a mob rushing towards us. We immediately took a roundabout. As soon as the supporters realised that we were taking a U-turn, in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds they started attacking our vehicle with sharp weapons. Not a knife but a country-made sharp weapon. They tried to stop our vehicle but the driver, fortunately, did not stop. Had the vehicle stopped, they would have set it ablaze. They had come prepared. I was their target. My camera person was hit by a stone and he sustained injuries to his face. He had to get stitches on the lower jaw. My left shoulder is hit," Ashutosh Mishra recalled.
Bhuvan Bagga, a correspondent with AFP took to Twitter to explain what happened outside the special CBI court. He spoke about how the police allowed Dera supporters to jump into the middle of the road.
"Calm before the storm"
After the verdict came out, there was utter silence but Bhuvan Bagga said that it was the calm before the storm. For 5 minutes there was neither noise nor action. Tear gas shells were fired as loud noises emerged from one corner of Panchkula. Within seconds stone pelting began.
"It all moved very fast from there. The media vehicles parked roadside became obvious targets. Saw them pelt stones, kick, beat with sticks, overturn two or three OB vans and vehicles, which were later set on fire. Suddenly water canons too opened on our left and front. Some security men upfront broke the cordon and charged towards the mob but from what I saw or think as a journalist (not a security expert), only a few in front line charged. There was no one to get their back. This meant they were outnumbered in front of an angry, violent mob. They had to beat a hasty retreat. With that, mob now charged them. Outnumbered in front of a charging mob of hundreds or thousands, everyone behind broken cordon now ran for their lives. Literally! Cops in full gear, vehicles. Drivers. Journalists. Those with cams & equipment had it the hardest. Stones and shells were flying all over," Bhuvan Bagga said in a series of tweets.
19/n: ...next to me. Loud everytime. Gets to your head & nose. Suddenly water canons too opened on our left & front. OBs were still intact.👇 pic.twitter.com/FzjiaA0Uas— Bhuvan Bagga (@Bhuvanbagga) August 25, 2017
Despite intelligence, security forces did nothing
Ashutosh wondered why the police did nothing despite being fully aware that the Dera supporters had stacked up weapons. "Journalists were soft targets and reporters were targetted first. By 1 PM we received intelligence information that the Dera followers had decided to vent their ire on journalists. Supporters had weapons, police did nothing. They stored weapons at home, no searches were conducted. Simply because these babas have political backing," he said.
The visuals spoke of themselves. Media vehicles were vandalised and torched, journalists were pelted with stones and attacked with weapons. Equipment was damaged, their vehicles were waylaid. All of this as security personnel watched from behind a cordon. Despite the threat and attacks, journalists continued to expose the Dera thugs vandalise public property. "It was horrible. How do I put it in words? Their intention was to kill us," is what most journalist had to say about their experience in Panchkula on Friday.