New Delhi— A program 'Journalism at Risk- Discussion About Attack on Freedom of Speech and Expression ' was organised by the Campaign Against State Repression on May 15 at Delhi's HKS Surjeet Bhavan. Senior scribes from various media groups emphasized how the vulnerability of journalism is a more severe sign that society as a whole is vulnerable. They expressed concern over the loss of a sort of media that covers topics affecting people.
The invited speakers covered a wide range of topics related to the ongoing attacks on journalists and independent media by the Indian government.
Just a day before the event, something similar was experienced by a young journalist who had gone at a demolition site in Dhaula Kuan area to cover the plight of people left homeless after the demolition.
On 14th May , Sunday, at around 4 PM an emergency call was made by journalist Dharan Gaur for needing an ambulance for a severely ill 67-year-old man who was lying unconscious in a park situated in Dhaula Kuan area of Delhi.
This is the exact same area that saw a demolition drive a day before this incident on 13th May. Dharan was there along with other scribes to report the demolition and while talking to the distressed homeless people whose houses were bulldozed, they gave the information that there is an old man lying unconscious at the edge of the park.
Residents accompanied the scribes to this old man’s wife who was the sole member there from his family. The old man was seen in a critical condition and his wife was crying for help from anyone, that’s when Dharan made a call to the emergency service.
After the emergency call, the events that unfolded were surprising and questionable at the same time. Dharan kept getting calls from the Police Control Room (PCR) asking about the situation till the time the ambulance reached the spot.
Along with the ambulance Delhi Cantt Police Station’s SHO Vipin Kumar also reached the spot and not only him but some 10-15 other police officers also came and said, “You have reported misinformation that this man got injured during the demolition drive.” To which Dharan replied that this call was on the basis of the primary information that he received from the locals and still haven’t reported on it or made the incident public in any sense.
Delhi Police officers started misbehaving with the journalist, threatening of filing an FIR against him. In the meantime, the old man was taken to the Safdarjung Hospital, and Delhi Police asked Dharan to come to Subroto Park Police Station and register his statement about the incident. The matter got escalated so much on a mere call to an ambulance that ACP also got involved in the process of detaining a journalist.
While talking to The Mooknayak, Dharan Gaur recalls the incident that happened while he was there at the Police Station. He says, “At first I was made to sit at Subroto Park Thana where police officials were discussing lodging an FIR in the case, later Head Constable got a call from the Delhi Cantt Police Station that SHO Vipin Kumar wants to meet me.”
Adding further Dharan said, “After reaching the Delhi Cantt Police Station, I was taken to SHO Kumar who threatened me that he will report this to PTI and I won’t be able to pursue journalism for the rest of my life. SHO ordered the head constable to take cognizance of the matter and take suitable action against me.”
In the further conversation, Dharan alleges that his phone was snatched by another police officer who was present there and he started checking his phone and played the recording of the emergency call.
When The Mooknayak reached the spot after gaining this information, Dharan was taken to the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital for getting his medical checkup (MLC) done. On enquiring with the investigating officer Sooraj, he said we are filing a case against him which is why we have sent him for the medical.
After the medical, he was taken back to the Subroto Park Police Station. It was around 8:30 PM and several journalists from different organizations started to reach the Police Station.
The Mooknayak asked the investigating officer the basis and under what sections was he filing an FIR. Officer replied saying this is not an FIR but a petty issue case which he called filing a ‘Kalandara’ under section 182.
The term "Kalandra" refers to a notice given under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to a person who may be about intending to disrupt the peace, disturb the public tranquility, or engage in any other unlawful act that might do so. Section 182 covers the offense of providing false information, with intent to cause a public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person. Whoever gives to any public servant any information which he knows or believes to be false, intending thereby to cause, or knowing it to be likely cause harm to someone.
Head Constable Sooraj then confiscated Dharan’s Aadhar Card and provided him with a seizure memo in the presence of several journalists present at the time. Later the seizure memo was taken back from Dharan saying it has to be signed by another Head Constable named Kulvir, the memo hasn’t been given to Dharan to date nor Delhi Police have provided a copy of the complaint that they have filed even after asking multiple times for it.
After lodging the complaint investigating officer asked Dharan if he can leave for now and will be called for the court appearance.
While Dharan was leaving he was stopped by Sub-Inspecter who asked him to give the call recording to him. When he asked the officer to wait until his lawyer arrived, Dharan’s phone was snatched by the officer ordering another officer to confiscate his phone also. After this he was taken inside the cabin of investigating officer, lawyer Prakhar Dixit reached at the moment, and by the time Dharan came out with the officers and was released.
Dharan says, “The police officers asked me to unlock my phone and they forced me into giving them the recording and then they returned my phone.”
Supreme Court Lawyer Prakhar Dixit representing Dharan Gaur said, “This is completely unwarranted, charging a journalist with 182 for a mere call to an ambulance on the basis of primary information provided to him by local residents. On the other hand, confiscating his Aadhar Card and not providing the memo to him is absolutely not in line with the police proceeding.”
The Mooknayak spoke to another independent journalist who was there at the police station and is aware of the developments in the case. Jyotish Chauhan says, “Initially when I reached, I met the senior officer and asked him about the case to which he said Dharan will be charged a penalty. After this I met Dharan and other journalists present at the spot, at this time while we were walking out of the police station, a sub-inspector snatched Dharan’s phone and took him inside the cabin.”
As of December 1, 2022, 363 journalists were incarcerated all around the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) annual prison census. CPJ is a nonprofit organization that defends journalists' rights and press freedom around the world. The report's key findings show that the majority of journalists jailed while reporting are from India.