On 2 October, Asad Rizvi, a Lucknow-based freelance journalist, filed a police complaint stating that policemen beat him up that day, unprovoked and while he was on an assignment. Rizvi said he was reporting from an important protest site in Lucknow, which features a prominent statue of MK Gandhi, when policemen asked him to stop, assaulted him. He said the police then confiscated his memory card with footage of the violence. Eighteen days earlier, reports emerged that a 19-year-old Dalit woman had been raped in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district by four dominant-caste Thakur youth. Following her death on 29 September, widespread protests broke out across Uttar Pradesh, many of which were heavily restricted by the police. Rizvi was reporting about how the police had sealed central protest sites in Lucknow, including the Gandhi statue.
Rizvi has fifteen years of experience in journalism and has covered a range of issues from Uttar Pradesh. His work has been published in several media outlets, including The Wire, NewsClick and The Caravan. In a conversation with Amrita Singh, an editorial fellow at The Caravan, he recounted the attack and spoke about what it means to be a journalist under the administration of Ajay Singh Bisht, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, popularly known as Adityanath. “What would they do to a journalist in Bahraich, in Unnao, in Jaunpur?” Rizvi asked. “They would shoot him, and say, ‘He was a criminal.’”
On 2 October, which is the birth anniversary of Gandhi, my camera-person and I went to the statue to shoot a video story. We wanted to report about how the prime areas of Lucknow, including the Gandhi statue—a place where protests commonly occur—had been sealed by the police to stop protests about the Hathras case and groups who wanted to pay their respects at the statue.
When we reached the statue, I saw nearly one hundred or two hundred police officials. The statue is in a huge public premises and we walked past several policemen and policewomen to reach it. The police officials deployed there were eating snacks like channa and mufli, and playing games on their mobile phones. I had politely told a young policewoman, “I am about to switch on the camera, please wear your masks.” Then she put it on. We began shooting and talking about how the police and the government order were stopping ordinary citizens from coming there on Gandhi Jayanti.
A woman sub-inspector came to me and said I was not supposed to report from there. When asked why, she said, “You don’t have permission.” I replied, “I don’t think any such permission is needed.” Even Section 144, if imposed, can only restrict more than four people congregating in a location, individual journalists have no restrictions on reporting from a public place. She said, “Acha, neeche aaiye aur sahib se baat kijiye”—Come down and speak to the officer. The officer, who was of an inspector rank, rather than speaking to me, began kicking me when I approached him.