On December 20, a Lucknow-based journalist was picked up, threatened and abused by cops. He was released after two hours. Here’s a first-person account of his ordeal
On December 19, at around 1:30 pm, a peaceful sit-in dharna (protest) against the Citizenship Amendment Act turned violent in Lucknow. A pitched battle between the crowd and police took place, with many more protestors emerging from the narrow alleys to the join the mob on the street. By 4 pm, the mob moved to Parivartan Chowk. The situation worsened with the protestors pelting stones, destroying public property and torching media OB vans.
On the evening of December 20, Omar Rashid, a journalist working with The Hindu in Lucknow was picked up by the police. He was threatened, abused and linked to the arson. They even called him a mastermind and made references to his Kashmiri descent. Here’s a first-person account by the journalist.
Could you please tell us briefly what happened that day?
I was outside the BJP office with a few friends, along with an activist friend. We were sitting at a restaurant. Suddenly, 3-4 men in plainclothes arrived, and without any warning, they started squeezing my friend. His name is Robin Verma. He is an activist and a scholar. After they started questioning him, I intervened and asked them what the matter was about. They started questioning me as well. I showed them my identity card. I revealed my identity as a journalist. They acknowledged that I was a journalist and said that their senior officer wanted to meet me. Once we stepped out of the restaurant, they put us into a vehicle and started driving. I tried to make some phone calls, but they snatched my phone away.
Were they in plain clothes? Were they wearing badges?
They were in plain clothes. They didn’t introduce themselves as police. I got to know that they were police by the language they were using, the references they made and the vehicle they had.
They drove us to the Hazratganj police station, which is about 500 meters away. We were taken to a room that looked like the cyber cell of the police station. Few other policemen, also in plainclothes, were already sitting there. They took my bag. My phone was already with them. They didn’t allow me to take calls from people who were trying to know where I was. They started beating my friend up. They started questioning him on the arson and the vandalism that took place a day before. They started linking me to the arson as well saying I knew who the accused were and said that I was a part of the conspiracy. They also threatened that they would book me under Article 120 (B) for criminal conspiracy. They said I was being brought there as a suspect despite knowing that I was a journalist.
I was picked up at around 6:45-6:50. They were just throwing these random allegations and threats at me. They didn’t allow me to speak. When I did, they threatened that they would book me.
After that, I was taken to a police outpost quite a distance away. I am not sure if it was Sultangunj or Sultanpuri. My friend was questioned. I was also questioned very aggressively. They were using a lot of hostile words. They started referring to my background, to the company that I work for, to the kind of work I do. They started using phrases that I can’t say here. They said things like “teri journalism to thikane laga denge” (they would put my journalism in place). I am being polite here because I can’t use the language which they did. After that two officers came. One was wearing plain clothes and the other was wearing full gear, along with a helmet. He approached me and said he would put my journalism in the right place.
I was taken into a small quarter where a constable lived. I was made to sit there without any information. I was waiting to speak to the seniors. Here, I was photographed like a criminal. Then the same guy who had interrogated me earlier came and threatened to pluck my beard. He asked me about certain Kashmiris and their location. He asked me where had I hidden them. He mentioned some names. I don’t know who they were. My answers were not satisfactory to him. He wanted me to say something to his liking, but I didn’t.
I could hear that they were beating my friend in the other room. I could hear his cries. There was silence for some time. I sat there quietly, waiting to hear from them.
Then they called me in. A DCP-level officer, basically a circle level officer at Hazratganj police station, was present there. He again started interrogating me about the Kashmiris that I had hidden. They asked me about the other accused whose name were written in a book.
They questioned me about the ID cards that I was carrying. They tried to intimidate me by asking me minute details. Like, they asked me my date of birth a number of times because they wanted me to sound dubious. They were using harsh language and were making references to my background.
Then suddenly their tone changed. The officer apologised to me and asked if any of his men misbehaved. I countered. I told him about the references that were made. He then scolded them in front of me. He said he was sorry on their behalf and that there was some confusion. He said some misunderstanding happened as a result of which I was bought there. They let me out. I was about to leave the outpost. I noticed that a friend of mine, who works with a reputed news channel, was outside. I heard him talking to the police. The police had lied to him that I was inside. He chose to wait and that’s how he came to know that I was inside. I think they lied to all others who came looking for me.
What do you think happened? How come their tone changed suddenly?
After I left the outpost, I got a call from the media advisor of the chief minister. He told me the same thing that the police had told me earlier. He asked me if I was okay and said I could call him in case of an emergency. He said it was an unfortunate incident. I believe somebody came to know and a phone call was made to the higher authorities. I think that’s how the information got trickled down to the officers at the outpost. That’s why they left me. But I don’t think they were planning to leave me so soon as they had photographed me. They were very harsh and they called me a conspirator. They almost treated me like a mastermind. They were celebrating and almost congratulating each other.
Do you think it was deliberate mischief or a genuine misunderstanding on their part?
Had it been a genuine misunderstanding, they would have left me the moment I had revealed my identity to them. I could have assumed that it was a misunderstanding had they not made any reference to my work, but they did that. They knew who I was. One of the constables knew me personally as I had engaged with him earlier in the day for a story. So, it’s not like I was a dubious character for them. I am a state-recognised journalist and I showed them the card that I had. It’s a government-recognised card, but even then, they were not satisfied.
Please tell us briefly about your background. For how long have you been working in Lucknow?
I have been working in Uttar Pradesh since 2012. I have worked for year-and-a-half in Maharashtra covering the politics there. I am a Kashmiri. I have two homes. The other is in Darjeeling. I have lived in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai for my education and for work purposes. In Uttar Pradesh, I have lived in Allahabad and Lucknow.
Do you plan to take any action?
I am still waiting for things to get normal because there is no internet connection in Lucknow. I want to first let things calm down. What is important for me as a reporter is that I do my duty and cover what is happened and then move on to my personal ordeal. That’s secondary. Because people are getting killed. They are getting booked. What I went through is not that serious compared to this.