Journalist Assaulted by Delhi Police and told Don’t you know the country has changed


“The Caravan’s” Journalist kicked and slapped by Delhi Police ACP Inside police station premises while on assignment in North Delhi. The Caravan has also reported regularly on caste atrocities and sexual violence, including investigations on how police and powerful caste groups work together to cover up of such crimes.

New Delhi (17 Oct 2020): On the afternoon of 16 October, the Delhi Police detained and assaulted Ahan Penkar, a 24-year-old staffer of The Caravan, while he was reporting in north Delhi. Ajay Kumar, the assistant commissioner of police of Model Town, kicked and slapped Penkar inside the Model Town police station premises. Penkar had repeatedly told the police that he was a journalist and prominently displayed his press card.

The police forcibly took Penkar’s phone from him and deleted all the photos and videos he had recorded while reporting. Penkar was detained for nearly four hours. In the assault, he sustained injuries on his nose, shoulder, back and ankle.

Penkar was reporting on a protest concerning the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit teenager in north Delhi. Students and activists had gathered outside the Model Town police station to demand the registration of a first-information report in the case, against a complaint by her relative. In early October, the 14-year-old had been discovered dead in the home at which she was employed as a domestic worker.

Penkar is the fourth journalist from The Caravan who has been attacked in the last two months in the Indian capital. In August, three journalists from The Caravan were beaten, assaulted and sexually harassed while reporting in Delhi’s North Gonda neighbourhood. The journalists were following up on an article related to allegations of sexual assault against the Delhi Police, by a Muslim woman complainant in the February violence in the capital.

The assault on The Caravan’s journalists is a grave attack on press freedom and the freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution, and a sign of the rising dangers of reporting on the Delhi Police and its actions.

“The frequency with which Caravan reporters are being targeted makes one wonder if there’s a calculated design behind such attacks,” Vinod K Jose, the executive editor of the publication, said. “The impunity with which a senior Delhi Police officer assaulted a young Caravan journalist inside the Model Town police station is shameful and a further blot on the record of the force. No constitutional democracy can permit officers in uniform to take law into their hands and torture citizens and journalists at will. The issue is also closely interlinked with the freedom of the press, another constitutionally guaranteed right and the right to report freely and fairly. The officer in question and his subordinates must be suspended immediately pending an inquiry against them.”

Hartosh Singh Bal, the political editor of The Caravan, said, “There is a pattern to how the Delhi Police is reacting to any questioning of the Modi govt and its own role. This has now extended to journalism and journalists. If this is to go unpunished then we are witnessing the decay of constitutional democracy.”

Anant Nath, the editor of The Caravan, said, “The detainment and assault on a reporter who was discharging his professional duties is brazenly unlawful, and is part of a dangerous trend that has been set by the Delhi Police in recent months of completely disregarding it’s constitutional duties with respect to protecting citizens’ rights. If journalists are being assaulted in police stations in the heart of the capital for merely reporting on protests against government and police inaction, one can only imagine the truly alarming state of affairs in rest of the country. We urge the Police Commissioner and the Union Home Ministry to take strict action against those responsible.”

Jose, the executive editor, further said: “We demand protection for our reporters and we further demand that the commissioner of Delhi Police issue directions for the registration of an FIR immediately and personally monitor the probe. We also demand that swift action be taken against the named ACP and his subordinates for using unprovoked custodial force on innocent citizens, including a journalist.”

Penkar was detained while reporting on the protest who had gathered outside the Model Town police station in the afternoon on 16 October. He reached the Model Town police station and began reporting on the protest and recording interviews with the family members. About half an hour later, the police began detaining protestors. As Penkar filmed the police’s actions, a police official pointed him out to Ajay Kumar, the ACP. Kumar ordered the personnel to then take Penkar inside the police station as well. “I was recording the incident on my phone in one hand, with my press card of The Caravan clearly held out for the police to see on my other hand,” Penkar said. “From this point onwards, the press card never entered my wallet again, I showed it every chance I could.”

Penkar was forcefully taken inside the Model Town station, even as he held out his press card and clearly told the police personnel that he was a journalist. “They took my phone immediately, even before we had made it inside … The whole time, I was yelling, ‘I am a journalist, I work for The Caravan,’” Penkar said. He was held in a room inside the station, along with four students from among the protestors.

During the next several hours, at least five police personnel as well as the ACP entered the room and beat up the young men. At least ten police personnel went in and out of the room, constantly verbally assaulting, threatening and deriding the young men.

The ACP first slapped Penkar, then kicked him on his thighs and his face. “I fell completely to the ground, and then he tried to pin me down, and kicked my back and shoulders.” Penkar repeatedly told the ACP and the police officers in the room that he was from the media. “There was no doubt about that, even when I was being beaten up, they knew I was from the media,” he said. Firoz Alam, a 27-year-old student who was being held in the same room as Penkar, confirmed this.

After beating Penkar, Kumar beat each of the four students as well. One of the students told The Caravan that the ACP “beat me on my chest with his boot and on my back … He pinned me down, he put his boot on my throat. He used such horrible abuses that I cannot even tell you over the phone.”

Other police officials participated in the assault and beatings as well. They threatened to arrest the men under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including incitement of violence. Police officials constantly used profanity against the five men held in the room. One police official told them, “Why do you all keep doing this? Tumhe nahi pata hai ki desh badal gaya hai?”—Don’t you know the country has changed? A man in plain clothes, whom the others referred to as an inspector, intimidated and threatened Penkar into unlocking his phone. Police officials then deleted the images of the protest and the video material that Penkar had collected while reporting. The police officials also collected Penkar’s identity cards from his wallet and his press card and kept these with them for some time. When Penkar asked for the cards to be returned, the police officials refused, saying the cards had been “seized.” The police finally let Penkar leave at around 7 pm.

The ordeal was “terrifying,” Penkar said. “I was shaking the entire time.” Penkar said that he incessantly reminded the police that he was a journalist who was only doing his job. “I told them, ‘I’m a reporter, why am I here?’” he said. But the police did not seem to care.

Penkar has sustained visible injuries on his nose, his back, his shoulder and has pain in his ankle, where Kumar kicked him. An MLC was registered on 16 October, at the Babu Jagjivan Ram Memorial Hospital in Delhi. Penkar has filed a detailed complaint about the assault with SN Shrivastava, Delhi’s commissioner of police, seeking action against Kumar and other police officials under sections 323, 342, and 506 (II) of the Indian Penal Code—relating to voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful confinement, and criminal intimidation. He wrote to the commissioner: “It is shameful and abhorrent that this is the way the Delhi Police treats journalists.”

When contacted, Ajay Kumar, the ACP, said he is not authorised to speak to the media and asked us to contact Vijayanta Arya, the deputy commissioner of police for Delhi’s North West district. Arya denied that the police was aware of Penkar’s identity as a journalist. “Ten of the protestors were detained, he was one of them,” she said. “At no point did he mention to the police that he was from the press, he was not holding any ID or any other way by which the police could have known.” Arya also denied the fact that the police took Penkar’s ID cards and press cards inside the station. “No such thing happened at the police station,” she said.

When asked about the visible injuries on Penkar’s person and the threats by the police which confirmed that they knew Penkar was a journalist, she said, “We are looking into it.” About Penkar’s detailed complaint to the commissioner, she said, “We are looking into that as well.” SN Shrivastava, Delhi’s commissioner of police, refused to comment on the incident over the phone and cut the call. A subsequent message and call to him went unanswered.

The Caravan has published critical investigations and eye-witness accounts of police complicity in the communal violence that swept north-east Delhi in February. The stories have also looked in depth at the police’s harassment and intimidation of Muslim residents in the aftermath of the violence, and especially of witnesses who have come forward to register official complaints. Over twenty journalists—including reporters, video reporters, photojournalists and editors—have put their efforts into producing our coverage of the violence and its aftermath, even amid the COVD-19 lockdown. The Caravan has also reported regularly on caste atrocities and sexual violence, including investigations on how police and powerful caste groups work together to cover up of such crimes.

The attack on our journalists is a grave assault on media freedom, and on the journalists’ democratic rights as reporters and citizens. The Caravan is determined to continue its reporting on the violence in northeast Delhi.

The full report of the attack is here: