Street scuffle

An ABVP supporter seemed to judge this reporter by her clothes or looks as a communist. And didn’t seem to understand that everyone cannot be so easily slotted 

“WHO DO you work for? Are you a communist?” were the first questions he asked.

This was December 16 — a day after Delhi Police went on a rampage inside Jamia Milia Islamia. The police force recently admitted to using firearms during protests against the brutality meted out to students here and at Aligarh Muslim University during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

I and my colleague, Proma Chakraborty, first went to the Delhi University Arts Faculty where protests had begun earlier in the day. While at first peaceful, members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) were seen in videos hitting students with sticks and kicking them. Finally, by late afternoon, the peacefully protesting students were rounded into Delhi Police bus and taken away to Jantar Mantar.

But tension still ran high. One little commotion sent the cops in a tizzy, running after people, trying to break groups up before the confrontations escalate. In this milieu, there were ABVP members, one former (ABVP) state Secretary Bharat Khatana who was speaking about the protestors. After his little speech, we spoke with him a little and walked off with nothing more than some accusations about the Left (protesting) students not allowing others to give their exams.

We stood on a corner, trying to book a cab to Jantar Mantar. Just then a guy I recognised as one standing guard next to Khatana as he spoke, come towards us. His first question, “Who do you work for…Are you communists?”

Was this a joke? Me and my colleague exchanged quick glances. Our interrogator kept a poker face, maintaining the rigidity symbolic of his attitude. It wasn’t a joke.

I said no, and then quickly thought, why had I even denied it. So I followed it up with “Even if I was, it wouldn’t matter as I’m a journalist.” Staring at his unconvinced face I added “… And one that does not take sides while reporting, only write facts”.

He was persistent. all that is well and good, he said, but “Whose side are you on? Do you think what’s  happening is right?” I said no, “Absolutely not.. it wasn’t right that students were facing violent abuse in their university”.

But that’s not what he meant. “What about the students who are not being allowed to give exams?” he asked. If that’s true, I said, it’s not right.

What about the assault on students earlier at DU by the ABVP? I asked. “There are videos circulating”. Surprisingly he didn’t deny it, instead nonchalantly clarified that they are not violent with women. “Hum mard- mard main hi rakhte hain.” (We keep it among men).

We laughed, “Ok”. (Must add though, that accounts of women being assaulted is in the public domain).

He wasn’t going to leave it at that. He continued, “Which college did you study in?”. Ah! he wanted to know if I was from either of the ‘Leftist’ universities like Jamia Milia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Unfortunate for him, I had studied in London, “Par ghar wapas aa gayi,” I said with a smirk. He finally relaxed, laughed and asked if we’d like to have a cup of tea.

While we didn’t continue our conversation, I told him he could come with us to Jantar Mantar where his peers were protesting. He could join in. He smiled and said “No thanks”.

Well, that was our encounter with an ABVP member who obviously wanted to intimidate us by asking our affiliation. Some commie journalists, they thought.

There have been protests and abuse from both sides against media. One calls it Godi media, and the other anti-nationals, presstitutes and such. There’s no winning, one can just do one’s job.

But thinking about this encounter later, I wondered what made him think to approach us in that manner. Was there something about us which made him think, “Look! Communists”?

During violent protests in North-east India against the CAA, prime minister Narendra Modi had said that those creating violence could be identified from their clothing.

Did he just mean the clothes? So was it our olive green jackets? Or was it our eastern looking faces, or maybe it was the fact that we asked Khatana some relevant questions? Whatever it was, for them we symbolised two commies outside the gates of DU, enemies of the Right.

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