Rules of the jungle have changed: Amitava Kumar responds to assault on Caravan staffer

21 October 2020

On 16 October, Delhi Police assaulted The Caravan’s staffer Ahan Penkar at the Model Town police station while he was reporting in North Delhi. Amitava Kumar, a professor at Vassar College in New York and a contributing editor at The Caravan, responded to the attack, in poem form. 

I read in a report that a journalist named Ahan Penkar at The Caravan magazine was beaten at a police station in north Delhi on 16 October. Penkar was covering a protest concerning the alleged rape and murder of a 14-year-old Dalit girl employed as a domestic worker. Penkar was hauled inside the police station along with four protesters. He held his press card in front of him and shouted that he was a journalist covering the protest but to no avail. While they were being beaten, a policeman asked the men: “Why do you all keep doing this? Tumhe nahin pata hai ki desh badal gaya hai?”—Don’t you know the country has changed? 

The dead girl’s family believes that their child was raped and killed by her employer in a house in North Delhi. We do not know the whole truth about what happened to the girl, but we do know this much from the protesters who were tortured at the police station: the assistant commissioner of police, an officer named Ajay Kumar, brutally assaulted the men who had been brought to the police station and he also abused them. He put his boot down on the throat of a student-protester who later said to reporters about ACP Kumar: “He used such horrible abuses that I cannot tell you over the phone.” 

I do not know what abuses ACP Kumar used but what caught my attention was the line I have quoted above: “Tumhe nahin pata hai ki desh badal gaya hai?” It is possible that the police official was thinking of the Modi government’s theme-song “Mera desh badal raha hai, Aage badh raha hai”—My country is changing, it is moving forward—a hagiographic offering showcasing, for the most part, the dear leader’s penchant for being photographed at a variety of celebratory events. But, in my case, the police official’s line reminded me of a line from a novel that I have been working on for the past few years. My novel also tells the story of a journalist, and in that way, it is a novel about the news.

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    Amitava Kumar is a professor of English at Vassar College in upstate New York, USA. His latest book, A Time Outside This Time: A Novel, will be published by Aleph next year.

    Keywords: Ahan Penkar