‘I was pushed out of Azad Maidan’
The Hindu journalist describes how police refused to let him cover protest
I wasn’t supposed to be a part of this story.
It was 10 p.m. on what appeared to be a regular workday. Just before I wound up, I decided to make a quick trip to Azad Maidan, where a protest was in progress against the proposed oil refinery in Ratnagiri’s Nanar village. I had got wind of a potential stand-off between police and protesters, and decided to head there.
As I entered the main gate of Azad Maidan, which faces the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation headquarters, a police officer stopped me in my tracks and asked to check the bag I was carrying. I showed him the bag, told him I was a journalist, and showed him my State government accreditation card. The word ‘journalist’ appeared to have triggered him. He grabbed my shoulder and said I could not enter the ground. Surprised, I asked him why.
“Don’t ask questions. Do what I tell you. Journalists are not allowed,” he said. I quickly checked his identity. Jagnath Ganage, Sub Inspector, Azad Maidan police station.
I tried reasoning with him, but he pushed me with both hands and began to raise his voice: “Do not ask questions, just go away.” Four constables and another sub-inspector (I couldn’t read his name, in the melee) rushed to Mr. Ganage’s side. Things soon turned physical. Mr. Ganage pushed me out of the main gate, telling me that no one apart from protesters was allowed there. He asked me to call the senior inspector of Azad Maidan police station, Vasant Wakhare. “Wait for 30 minutes. Negotiations are on,” he said [The police was in the midst of negotiations with the protesters, asking them to leave the ground. They had earlier announced they would not leave until the Chief Minister had met them].
I asked him how negotiations can stop a journalist from entering the ground, but he refused to answer. A call to Mr. Wakhare didn’t help either.
The two sub-inspectors, in the meantime, kept trying to push me out. I asked them to show me the order barring journalists from the venue. The answer was, “There is none.”
For me, as perhaps for all journalists in the city, this was a first. A new low. Why would a journalist doing his job be stopped by the authorities so brazenly?
Senior police officers were unavailable for comment. In response to my tweet, the Mumbai police had this to say: “We are forwarding your complaint to the concerned Supervisory Officer.
Maharashtra CM seeks report on manhandling of The Hindu’s journalist
Mr. Fadnavis was speaking on the floor of State Legislative Assembly after the issue of Alok Deshpande, the journalist with The Hindu being manhandled by the police, was raised by the Leader of Opposition, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.
The Chief Minister announced that an inquiry would be conducted into the Tuesday night incident where Mr. Deshpande was stopped from entering Azad Maidan and misbehaved with by policemen and assured that action would be taken.
Mr. Deshpande was stopped at the main gate of Azad Maidan by police sub-inspector Jagnath Ganage on Tuesday night and prevented from entering the protest site. Four police constables and another sub-inspector also joined in and pushed Mr. Deshpande out using force.
The Mumbai Press Club, too, condemned the unlawful act of Azad Maidan police station officers.
“The police act is highly condemnable and warrants a disciplinary action against the officers involved,” it said in a statement.
When Mumbai Press Club and other journalists associations brought the unsavory and anti-freedom of press incident to his notice, CM Devendra Fadnavis made an immediate announcement in the Assembly that action would be taken against the erring police officers.
“As we welcome CM’s quick response, we appeal to him to tell the police force to stop browbeating working journalists and create an atmosphere of coexistence,” the Mumbai Press Club said in the statement