It is 4.45 pm on 30 January 2016. My body is bruised and in searing pain. Yesterday, several students staged a protest near the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office in Jhandewalan, Delhi. They were demanding punishment for the “culprits” behind the institutional victimisation of Hyderabad Central University’s Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, whose suicide has triggered outrage and conversations about caste. This protest was organised by the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, a student group representing the protestors in Hyderabad, and included students from colleges across Delhi. “January 30 marks the twenty-seventh birthday of Rohith Vemula and martyrdom day of Gandhiji. Both were victims of witch-hunt by RSS. Rohith and his friends were victimised by BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] ministers for challenging RSS politics,” the All India Students Association (AISA), the student-wing of the Communist Part of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation, stated in a press release.
I had gone to cover the protest and found myself being assaulted by members of the Delhi Police who also shattered my camera. These policemen were aggressive, possibly because I was shooting pictures at the back of the rally, where the there were no television cameras to be seen. The policemen had split the protestors into two groups. Most of the news cameras were covering the protestors at the front, where the police was more careful and less aggressive. Towards the back, the policemen had created a sort of Padmavyuha, or a cul-de-sac, where they circled around the protestors to isolate and assault them. Male policemen manhandled the female students, dragging and pushing them, scenes that I was about to capture with my camera. This was when the police attacked me. Vikas Kumar, a photographer from Catch News, whose camera was also broken witnessed the police striking me. He told me later that he had heard a turbaned officer give his colleagues the orders to smash cameras.
We were far away from the safety of the TV cameras and the policemen knew this. I heard them shout out “one, two, three, charge” before they rushed at the protesting students. I shot a picture of this. Immediately after, an inspector grabbed my camera by the LCD screen, tearing it apart. I told the policemen that I was a journalist, but they continued to strike at me with their lathis. By this time, a crowd had gathered around me, and was asking the police to stop. I grabbed the body of my camera from the ground and managed to hide the memory card as the police chased me.
I slipped away into a small crowd of bystanders, who were witnessing this from outside their homes in the area. The police filmed the students on their cameras, “for the record” and took down the names of the organisations protesting. Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union later told me that a group of young people sitting near the RSS office also joined the police in attacking the protestors later.
A previous version of this story stated that Vikas Kumar had heard a turbaned officer issue orders to his colleagues to smash the author’s camera. The orders were to “smash cameras.” The Caravan regrets the error.
Rahul M is an independent journalist based out of Anantapur. He is the former photo coordinator at The Caravan.