Kolkata: Officially, the Kolkata Police has said only three journalists were injured in clashes with the police yesterday during the Left protests in Kolkata.
But the number is many times more.
Two NDTV camerapersons who were on the spot were severely caned by the police for no apparent reason. Both sustained ugly welts on their back.
Nirmal Sarkar's hand was also cut and part of his camera damaged. Shankar Ghosh Dastidar was caned on his back.
They were not alone. At least a dozen more mediapersons were attacked by the police yesterday even as the protests were winding down. At least three of them are in hospital. Women mediapersons too were not spared.
There was trouble first near the Press Club when the police got into an altercation with journalists. Then, a reporter with a local television channel was doing a phone interview with his studio when a policeman told him to shut up.
In the altercation that ensured, the police man slapped the reporter.
Immediately, mediapersons demanded the name of the offending police officer so that a complaint could be lodged. But the policemen whisked him away. Angry mediapersons blocked Mayo Road. When it seemed like the matter was resolved, suddenly the police began to lathi-charge.
Most injured mediapersons claimed the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Aparajita Rai, the first IPS officer from Sikkim, gave the directions to lathi-charge. She also allegedly used unparliamentary language while launching the attack.
Mr Vishal Garg, Joint Commissioner (Crime) said this was not a kangaroo court. If someone has been injured, it will be probed.
The Press Club Kolkata has condemned the incident. But some mediapersons pointed out that had such an attack taken place in Delhi, complaints would have been filed with the News Broadcasters Association, a collective of private television news and current affairs broadcasters.
In an effort to mitigate the damage, a senior officer called me and several other senior journalists, who were pushed around by women police officers, to apologise and said "they had strict instructions to ensure journalists were not manhandled".
"How and why it happened will be probed," Kolkata Police joint commissioner Supratim Sarkar said after the issue was raised at a press conference he had called.
On the issue of some kind of toxic spray being used to incapacitate protestors, the police denied they used chilli or pepper spray. "We don't use chilli spray," Mr Vineet Goel, Joint Commissioner, Kolkata Police said.
But the effects were there for all to see. No tears -- as from the case -- but a debilitating round of coughing and sneezing erupted after it was sprayed on protestors gathered at Gandhi Statue around 3.30 pm.
Several media organisations plan to hold pretests in Kolkata at 4 pm today.