This Article is From Feb 26, 2020

'Rudraksha' To Prove Religion, Begging For My Life - This Is Now Delhi

What started like a regular news day ended up being one of the most dreadful days of my life. 

I had been reporting on the violence in north-east Delhi since Sunday night. I was back in Maujpur, some 15 kms from parliament, at 7 am for live reports.

What we saw was horrific. Angry mobs were looting people, pelting stones and vandalizing shops. The atmosphere was extremely tense, We could hear gun shots. Delhi  looked and felt very different.

At around 12 pm, after covering the situation in Maujpur, my colleague Arvind Gunasekar and I headed to Karawalnagar and Gokulpuri - both very sensitive areas. We decided to not use the NDTV mic as rioters were extremely agitated with the media. We used our mobile phones to cover the violence around us.

Soon, the rioting spread from the main roads into the bylanes. We saw houses being burnt, religious sites getting vandalised as mobs got more aggressive by the minute. The young men who were in these groups on the prowl were drunk. The police was nowhere to be seen.

It was now 1 pm. We heard that a religious structure near Seelampur was being targeted. As we reached there, we saw a mob of about 200 vandalizing the place. We started recording from a flyover. Runjhun Sharma from CNN News 18 was also with us. There were just a few policemen around - they were doing nothing.

I was about 50 metres away from Arvind when a rioter grabbed him. Before we knew it, a mob of 50-60 started beating him. They demanded that he delete all the footage that was on his mobile phone. 

He was on the floor, bleeding from the mouth. He had lost 3 teeth. I rushed to him to help and was hit by sticks that would have otherwise landed on his head. They punched me in the stomach and back, and continued hitting me with sticks on my shoulder as I shielded Arvind.

I managed to get up and showed these people a Foreign Correspondents' Press Club card. I told them that we were not reporting for an Indian television channel but were with a foreign agency.

They saw my surname - Shukla. Someone among the attackers told the others I was a Brahmin. I also showed them my 'rudraksha' to prove my religion. This was the saddest part for me - to have to prove my religion to save my life. The rioters said when I am from their community, why was I shooting videos (that could go against their version of the story). They scolded me and hit me again. We folded our hands and pleaded with them to let us go. I told them that Arvind is from Tamil Nadu and does not speak Hindi. Runjhun was with us and she too begged that they let us go. 

They took our mobile phones and started deleting photos and videos. They knew how to operate iPhones. They went into all possible folders on the phone to delete any incriminating footage. Then they made us chant religion slogans and warned that if they saw us again, they would kill us.

We went to a hospital for first-aid and headed back to our office. As we drove back, I thought of how Delhi has become a national shame today. A city I moved to in 2011 is not the same anymore.

Dilli ke naam mein 'dil' hai. Woh kahaan hai?

(Saurabh Shukla is a senior correspondent with NDTV.)

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