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‘Don’t Click Photos, Just Enjoy the View’: Mob’s Warning Just Before I Saw Fellow Journalists Brutalised

A mob sets a shop on fire in a riot-hit area of New Delhi on February 25, 2020. (AP)

A mob sets a shop on fire in a riot-hit area of New Delhi on February 25, 2020. (AP)

No appeals or journalistic credentials worked. Only ‘Sharma’, ‘Shukla’ surnames and a ‘rudraksh’ mala saved three reporters from a violent mob in riot-hit northeast Delhi.

New Delhi: I thought I was watching a movie. The scenes were scary and chilling. Men wielding swords, iron rods and hockey sticks; many of them wearing helmets, and all of them chanting 'Jai Shree Ram'.

As they entered houses, I heard disturbing sounds. A few minutes later, I saw fire billowing from a window. I was standing across a big sewer drain with two other reporters in Khazoori Khas area of northeast Delhi.

We were not allowed to shoot or record any of what was happening. Don’t take out your phones out of your pockets and just “enjoy the view”, the mob threatened us.

Stones were being pelted and acid was being thrown on the lanes in front of us and behind us. A religious structure, too, was being burnt. We weren't allowed to get close to it, but the black smoke that had blanketed the sky was visible even from a distance.

As I stood still, helplessly watching houses being gutted to the ground, I wondered why the police was a few kilometres away and not at the spot. If reporters can get information, so can the police.

As the crowds cheered and left after burning down the houses, the mob, brimming with pride, ‘permitted’ us to click a picture, just one.

As we headed to another location, a little ahead of Old Maujpur. We saw armed mobs along the way despite section 144 being imposed in the area.

In Meet Nagar near Old Maujpur, another religious structure was being vandalised. A group of 200-300 men were breaking down the shrine, brick by brick. Fire was raging behind the structure and smoke billowing from it.

I was reporting from the ground with two NDTV reporters, Saurabh Shukla and Arvind Gunasaker. We stopped our cars. This was not a bylane, it was next to a flyover, on the main road. We saw cops on bikes wearing tilaks, offering rides to men armed with rods as we headed towards the structure.

As any reporter would do, Arvind Gunasaker started recording the scenes on his mobile phone, which was kept in the breast-pocket of his shirt.

Within minutes, around 50 men, armed with iron rods and hockey sticks, started running towards us. Before we could make sense of it all, they started assaulting Arvind. More men were rushing towards us.

Saurabh Shukla and I folded our hands and pleaded with the mob to let the three of us go. We were constantly saying 'maaf kar dijiye (forgive us)', 'galti ho gai (it was a mistake)', 'hum patrakar hain (we are journalists)'. But none of these worked.

After constantly beating Arvind up for several minutes, they made him delete every single photo and video from his phone. Only then did they let him go. He was limping and bleeding from the mouth, one tooth missing, two other broken.

As Arvind and I reached our cars that were parked a few metres away, we realised to our horror that the mob had now got hold of the other reporter who was with us, Saurabh Shukla. He was now surrounded by the mob, which asked him to delete everything he had on his phone or else the phone would be thrown in the fire.

I rushed back and pleaded with the mob again. My phone was zipped in my track pants, but I told them that it was in the car. I prayed fervently that they don't frisk me and, thankfully, they didn't.

They asked us about our religious identity. I showed them my press ID card. It mentioned my last name, ‘Sharma’. Saurabh Shukla took out his rudraksh mala. They wanted to know if we were “one of them”. After several minutes of begging and pleading, and most importantly proving our religious identity, they decided to let us go.

We were leaving with our hands folded. They wanted one last ‘Jai Shree Ram’, a ‘goodbye greeting’.

CNN News18's Special Correspondent Runjhun Sharma narrates her ordeal, as she was heckled by rioters while covering the riots in the national capital.