Courtroom reporting is supposed to be safe. There are judges, cops and all the “bad elements” come handcuffed. It’s not exactly the frontline, except when it is.
On Wednesday, however, as JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was brought in to be produced at the end of his remand period, I felt anything but safe.
Reaching the now familiar court complex, I was stopped by police. There was a Supreme Court order stating that not more than five journalists are allowed in court. My colleagues and I explained to the policeman that every citizen in the world was allowed to enter the court premises and that the Supreme Court order was only valid for the courtroom where Kumar’s proceedings were taking place.
“Dekho ma’am, mujhe apne boss se order milte hain, Supreme Court se nahin (Ma’am, I get my orders from my bosses, not the Supreme Court),” said the inspector stationed at Gate No 4. In the meantime, Kumar was produced in court and I noticed from a distance that a sea of lawyers rushed towards him. Later, I heard they had assaulted him and a medical examination confirmed that he had been assaulted and received injuries on his face. A cop who was escorting the JNU leader was knifed as well, sources said.
Eventually let in after the SC clarified its order and cops were intimated, I was herded to a small enclosure just outside the courtroom. Other colleagues were huddled there. Flimsy barricades had been put up to protect us from the swarm of angry lawyers in the complex.
Surrounded by a monochromatic mob that were shouting at us and calling us names, we felt like unwitting gladiators in a ring or the chicken about to be broiled. We felt like we were about to be attacked.
If I so much as opened my bag to take out my phone, the lawyers behind us would push at the flimsy barricades making them and our nerves rankle. “Phone band karo, ya dekh lo gey (Shut your phone or face the consequences),” came the threats.
Another lawyer came to me, to give me friendly advice, and said that the lawyers were getting agitated as I too was wearing black and white and they thought I was trying to impersonate them. When I pointed out that lawyers don’t show up to court in tee-shirts, “Bach ke rehna, that is all I’m saying”. I moved away from him and went closer to the cops hoping to feel safer. The policewoman standing there told me to go back to my spot. When I told her why I had moved, she laughed, and me to go stand where I was told. “Kuch nahin hoga (Nothing will happen),” she said.