Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee

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Journalism, especially reporting is a risky job. Often the reporters have to face hostile crowd, at times mob fury- like in the recent case of the supporters of Baba Ram Rahim Insan beating up many reporters and damaging their equipments.

A report of CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), an international organisation of media persons says:  India Today TV principal correspondent Ashutosh Mishra and his cameraperson Pradeep Gupta were attacked while traveling in a car, according to a tweet from Shiv Aroor, a consulting editor with the channel. A video shows the car being attacked with sticks and rocks, and Gupta in the rear seat is shown bleeding and gripping his head. The cameraperson was later taken to the hospital and was scheduled to undergo surgery today for a broken jaw, according to a tweet from Rahul Kanwal, the station’s managing editor. In Sirsa town, headquarters of the spiritual guru’s organization Dera Sacha Dauda, a reporter with PTC news channel Rakesh Kumar fractured his arm and the channel’s cameraman Shapinder Singh went missing for a few hours, according to media reports. “The cameraperson was traced at night,” Sanjay Malhotra, the Haryana bureau chief of PTC, told CPJ. “His cellphone and equipment were destroyed but he managed to reach a relative’s house and informed us that he was fine.” Members of a mob hit on the head an engineer with New Delhi Television who was identified only by his first name, Hari, and the channel’s outdoor broadcast van was burnt to the ground, the channel reported. A broadcast van belonging to Times Now was overturned, the outlet reported. Other channels, including RepublicTV and CNN-News18, also reported that a mob attacked their crews. The journalists reported that they abandoned the broadcast vans and ran to safety when they came under attack. However, a mob beat up a cameraman for CNN-News18 and stole his vehicle, according to a report on Firstpost.com, a sister website of the channel.

An Appeal:  While denigrating the media in general and field journalists in particular, please spare a thought about the reporters out there. Consider the risk they undertake everyday to bring the news to your doorstep, to your drawing room. While you watch the events happening out there, the reporters are out there bringing the news to you. They enjoy no protection. Even then they brave angry mob, hostile weather – to report what is happening out there for you. For truth to prevail.

The Dera Story

After the conviction of the accused Baba and the violence unleashed by tens of thousands of Dera ‘bhakt’s and sentencing of the Baba, everybody is speaking about the utterly unreasonable ‘bhakti’ of the Dera supporters bordering on madness.

This is intriguing. However to understand the phenomena one must understand the socio-economic and cultural history of Punjab and Haryana. When Sikh religion was formed, the gurus envisaged it to be egalitarian- casteless and classless. Tens of thousands of low caste Hindus, who were oppressed and marginalised joined this ‘new’ religion to find a new identity. However, they found the same upper caste oppression there too. They were called ‘majhabi Sikh’ and were marginalised. The jat-khatri coterie took  over religious politicking, especially representation in SGPC and other gurudwara committees. They systematically kept the new converts out of the loop. This, along with other factors, led to many people being angry, helpless, disillusioned. They saw no way out, no way up. Without proper education and enough economic resources- their future seemed bleak. They turned to drugs.

It was in this situation that dera sachha sauda came up as a saviour organisation. It provided them an identity. It provided them food and some education, some ways to earn a decent livelihood. It tried to keep them away from drugs. It tried to give them dignity of life. Whatever a modern state should have provided to its citizens, the Dera provided. And the people were indebted. They found in Dera their saviour. This is the main reason of their blind faith for the Chief of the Dera.

And then came political power wielded by the Chief of the Dera, because he had a vote bank, which several political parties and individuals tried to utilise for their own interest. It is often said absolute power corrupts absolutely. This was exactly what happened with the Baba.

Eleven Brave Persons

It took just eleven persons to bring the mighty Baba to book.

Two brave young ladies (sadhvis), who were subjected to sexual assaults and who later waged a legal battle for 15 years- one and a half decades. Imagine, with their meagre resources, travelling to court 250 kms to Panchkula for every single hearing, protected by a lone gunman, surrounded/chased by Dera followers drunk on power literally baying for their blood. One of the ladies also lost her brother, who was assassinated.

One upright CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh, who delivered the historic judgement despite heavy political and mob pressure. It didn’t matter to him how many lakhs of lathi wielding people were standing with the accused. What mattered for him were the facts and evidences.

A journalist, Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who first broke this story in 2002 in a small local daily called Poora Sach and kept pursuing the issue despite death threats. He was murdered.

Anshuman Chhatrapati, the bereaved son who lost his father at the age of 21. He struggled to keep his slain father’s legacy alive in form of local newspaper ‘Poora Sach’ amid looming death threats and political pressure. Ultimately getting the CBI involved in the investigations after knocking on the HC door in 2003. Imagine a 21 year old, taking care of his father for 28 days , after five bullets have been pumped into his body and not even a single cop shows up to record the statement of the dying journalist.

Four lawyers Rajinder Sachar, R.S Cheema, Ashwin Bakshi and Lekhraj, who fought this case pro-bono. They withstood the pressure, invested their time and led it to its logical conclusion. Rajinder Sacher an octogenarian (he was born in 1923), an old ,frail, white haired upright gentleman fought the case without charging a single rupee.

CBI DSP Satish Dagar, DIG Mulinja Narayanan and other team members conducted fair investigation without bowing down to anyone. Imagine receiving innumerable calls to go easy or go soft on a certain individual. Imagine standing in a court jam packed with Dera supporters holding onto the truth.

Eleven upright men and women won the battle against the self-proclaimed ‘Messenger of God’, supported by powerful politicians and tens of thousands of followers ready to wreck havoc.

It only highlights one point, truth prevails- if you are willing to pay the price.

Tailpiece

Ravan muft me badnam ho gaya

Jo vi pakde gaye, ye savi Ram nikle

(Courtesy: Social Media)

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A journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, a Central Odisha hilly town. He also writes fiction. [email protected]

 

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