On July 28 a group of boys and girls, having a birthday party in a Mangalore suburb resort, were attacked by a Hindu Jagarana Vedike mob. A TV reporter Naveen Soorinje of the Kasturi channel was on the spot along with his camera man, filming the assault. What has marked out this incident is that the police have filed cases against the reporter, cameraman and a few other journalists present there, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and several sections of IPC – in a sense, clubbing them with the perpetrators of the attack. The filing of cases against the journalists adds another dimension to the debate on what reporters and camerapersons should do when covering such incidents .
What follows is Naveen Soorinje’s first person account of the attack:
At 6.45 in the evening on July 28, one of my news sources from Padil (in Mangalore) called me. This was all he told me: "Naveen, around 30 men have gathered near the Timber Yard in Padil Junction and I overheard them talking to someone trying to coax them to gather some more people. They were instructing someone to be prepared with their motorbikes. It looks like they are planning to attack the guest house in Padil. I overheard them saying something like Muslim boys and Hindu girls.”
I asked him to find out which organization the men belonged to. All he could gather was that they were from some Hindutva organization, though he could not find out the name of the exact organization they belonged to.
The immediate thought that crossed my mind was this: “Should I inform the police right away or should I not?” The dilemma was because there was no accurate information as to who belonging to which organization was to attack whom and where. I just had very rudimentary information on hand. If the members of the organization had called me themselves, I could have indeed informed the police instantly. As the news came from my source, I thought I should inform the police only after confirming the news. Having come to this decision, I set out on my bike to Padil along with my cameraman.
In a while, my cameraman and I were outside the guest house/ home stay named Morning Mist located on the hill in Padil. None of the attackers who eventually turned up were present at the spot then.We stood there for five minutes unable to understand why anyone would plan to attack that particular home stay which is located half a kilometer away from the highway cutting through Padil. The home stay is surrounded by a tall compound wall on all four sides. There is only one gate and 60 meters from the gate is the home stay. I stood near the gate and watched. There was nothing happening inside that could conceivably provoke an attack. A girl was sitting outside on a chair and two boys in another corner of the bungalow were absorbed in their mobile games. They were not indulging in any activity which can be considered illegal. That is the reason why I did not inform the police at that point of time. If my information turned out to be wrong, it would be an unnecessary anxiety for the entire police department.
While I was making all these calculations in my mind, I saw a group of over 30 people marching towards the home stay. Out of curiosity I asked them in Tulu: “Do you know what the matter is? What is happening here?” Some boys in the group pointed to the girl sitting outside saying: “Look, there is the girl and there are the guys…” They ran towards them, all set for attack. The girl, who realized that the group was there to attack, ran inside the bungalow and tried to close the door unsuccessfully. The group of 30 managed to run to the door and open it before the girl could close it completely.
Only at that point was I completely aware of what was happening and my conscience was also awakened. I immediately called Ravish Nayak, Inspector, Mangalore (Rural) (+91-948085330) from my official number (+91-9972570044). That must have been around 7.15 p.m. Ravish Nayaka did not receive my call. On the other hand, the assault had just begun. The girls started running helterskelter failing to understand what was happening. The police personnel were not receiving the calls being made. I asked my friend Rajesh Rao of TV-9 to call the police and Ravish Nayak did not receive the call made by Rajesh Rao either.
While I was trying to get in touch with the police inspector, the cameraman ran behind the attackers and got started on his duty of recording the action. Till then only my cameraman and I were present at the spot but were soon joined by the cameraman of Sahaya TV, Sharan, and a photographer, Vinay Krishna. I was a mute witness to all that was happening there, with the guilt of not being able to do anything. More than half the attackers had consumed alcohol and were not in a position to listen to anything. I have been witness to violent incidents in my life, but never before violence of this scale and nature. Our cameraman was running wherever the group was attacking individuals. I was watching it and screaming and requesting, “Don’t hit the girls.” My request reached the camera sound recorder but did not reach the attackers.The boys who were attacked were pleading, “Please leave us. We are having a birthday party here. Please…” and were falling at the feet of the attackers. But nothing moved the attackers. If it were to be just this, probably I could have forgotten the incident. But I saw something much more terrible and shocking.
The girls who saw the boys being trashed were shocked at the sight and ran in all directions only to be followed by the attackers. Believe it or not, one of the girls jumped down from the first floor but was caught by nearly 20 attackers who began to pull out her clothes. They slapped her and pushed her to the wall. This sight sent a chill down my spine. Never in my life had I seen something as horrific as this, though I had heard of such things. These were the scenes which could not become visuals for the news. Only a portion of the incident was shot. Later on, all the boys and girls partying there were locked inside a room. All this happened in a matter of 15 minutes.
When the attackers were done with one round of their planned action, Inspector Ravish along with Police S.I. Manikantha Neelaswamy and others arrived at the spot. It appeared as though the police had a tie-up with the attackers. For over half an hour the police were in conversation with the attackers. I was utterly shocked by the scene of police conversing with the them. While they were conversing, one boy who was in the partying group tried to escape, but was caught by the police. When in the custody of the police, the attackers trashed him.
By then many media persons had arrived at the spot. My cameraman and I returned to the office and uplinked all the visuals to the Bangalore office. At 8:45 p.m. the news was aired. Within no time the visuals of our channel was used by national channels and thus the incident became national news. This angered city police Commissioner Seemanth Kumar who called my friend Rajesh Rao of TV-9 who then was with me. Rajesh put the call on loud speaker while Seemanth Kumar was saying: “Why should Naveen have reported the incident? I will teach him a lesson. He not only compared this incident to the Assam incident, but also said that Mangalore is being Talibanized. This time he will be taught a lesson. We will fix him in this case and none of his contacts at any level will be of any help.” It is crystal clear from the words of Seemanth Kumar that his concern was not the attack itself, but the fact of the attack being reported.
This morning I received yet another shock. The attacked boys and girls had given statements against me at the Mangalore Rural Police Station. I was sure that those statements were given under pressure. I guess the boys and girls had heard me requesting the assailants not to trash them. By evening my doubt was cleared. Speaking to the media the attacked boys and girls said: “We haven’t complained against the media. They have stood in our support.”
Mangalore (Rural) police have filed a case against me under the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The police have arrested eight of the assailants with the help of our visuals. The incident we have reported is shameful, not the visuals we have shown. The 28 July incident at Mangalore is neither a stray incident nor is such an attack in Mangalore a new phenomenon. Every week such incidents take place. Fundamentalists not only attack boys and girls mixing with the boys and girls of another religion but also take them to the police station. This incident would have taken place even if I had not shot it. Our recording has revealed the inhuman face of the fascists and has led to the arrest of eight attackers. No matter what is said and what cases are booked against me, I believe I have done my duty as a reporter and that is the only satisfaction to my hurt self.
It doesn’t matter to me that there are complaints filed against me and an FIR has been lodged. I will be happy if the attackers are punished because of the FIR lodged against me. If I am to be freed of these charges because of some pressure and if that is going to benefit the attackers in any way, then I do not need such freedom. No matter what punishment is given to the attackers, it will never do justice to those girls who were assaulted right in front of my eyes. Yet they need to be punished.
There is more to write, but time does not permit. If any individual or association needs more information to fight the cause or if any investigation team needs more information, I can be contacted at any time of the day.
Kasturi News 24
(The Kannada version of this account first appeared in the daily Karavali Ale and the blog Vartamaana)