Memories of a strike covered

March 15, 2016 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Year: 2009.

Month: January-February

Place: Mangalore, Karnataka.

Couple of days had passed after the infamous pub attack in Mangalore by Sri Ram Sene which caught national attention. National media descended to Mangalore and gave special coverage to the issue of immoral policing.

Political leaders, activists, common men everyone were being asked for their opinion and the prominent activist Pattabhirama Somayaji who has been battling communalism from a long time was interviewed by one channel where he said, “It is Ravana sena not Rama sena.” This statement of his “hurt the religious sentiments” of his students at the University College in the heart of Mangalore making them call for a strike in the college campus asking Mr. Somayaji to apologize.

Then I was a reporter with The Hindu and went to the University College on getting to know about the strike. As I entered the campus my eyes fell on the students who were crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji. There was so much anger in them that I felt scared to go near them to talk to them. I silently went to the other side where other students were standing silently in the corridor and witnessing the strike. I spoke to some of the students there, collected basic information and then walked towards the students crying slogans. As I neared them their aggressiveness made me stop at a distance. As I stood there one among the ABVP students saw me and came to me. Coming near me in an aggressive voice asked, “Who are you?” I said, “Reporter,” listening to which he asked again in an angry tone, “Which media?” I hesitantly said, “The Hindu” and suddenly, to my shock, his tone changed as he said, to his other friends, “He is our man form the media, come come.”

The name of the newspaper The Hindu had given the ABVP boy an impression that it was a pro-Hindutva paper and I was one among them in solidarity with them. I let it be and went with him to meet the other members of ABVP who were on strike and the college president from ABVP. They spoke to me on how Mr. Somayaji is “anti-Hindu” and how he has “hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindu people,” and demanded an “apology” from him and “strict action” against him by the administration. I made note of all that they said.

I interacted with them in a quite friendly manner which, I guess, made them feel more like I am one among them.

When I, as a part of my job, asked them if they had seen the TV interview where Mr. Somayaji had made the statement against which they were protesting and explained, “I havent seen. I dont know what time it was aired so I am asking you.” To this they said, “Even we havent seen. But it seems he has said. Any ways, he says all anti-Hindu things in class.” They also spoke about how VHP had instructed them to go on strike and how they were in contact with the political leaders. I just made note of that and playing an innocent journalist asked how did an English teacher speak anti-Hindu matters in class when nothing in the subject makes space for the same. The students smiled and said, “We only probe him,” to which I had to laugh and I did.

Some of them took my phone number saying they will inform me whenever there is news from the college and will keep me updated about the strike. They said, “we need your support,” to which I just smiled.

Coming back to the office I wrote not just about the strike but also about how the strike was instigated by the VHP and how students admitted to not having seen the interview and probing Mr. Somayaji to make his political stands vocal and thus “frame” him. All of it got reported in the newspaper next day.

I clearly avoided, out of fear, going near the University College, the next day. But a day after the news got published, the students went on strike once again for the same issue saying the administration is not taking any action against Mr. Somayaji. My boss called me to say that the students were on strike again and asked me to go cover the issue. I said, “Sir, may be its wise that I dont go,” because I feared. I was scared because I had reported all that was against the ABVP students which I am sure the students did not expect. But my boss was like, “You did such a fine job the other day. Just go.” He did not know how the “fine job” the other day had taken place and what my fears were.  I had to go.

I entered the campus once again where the ABVP students were aggressively crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji and demanding strict action against him. I stood quite far from the students calculating what to do. By then a student who was crying slogans saw me. I thought now everyone would come and beat me up and I took my phone out of my pocket to be able to call some friend. But the boy, to my utter shock, smiled and told his friends, “Our friend is here,” and welcomed me saying, “Come come…”

I couldnt believe what had happened. But yes, I realized in that moment that the ABVP members did not read the newspaper and especially The Hindu which they assumed to be their mouth-piece.

They came to me, one of them put their hand on my shoulder, and they said, “We need more coverage so that the administration takes strict action against Mr. Somayaji.” They also explained why they were on a strike again after a day’s break. The instructions were coming from the VHP office members. They told me about the details of the phone conversation they had with the VHP, RSS members who had instructed them to go on strike and why Mr. Somayaji was the prime target. “Teachers like him spoil the minds of students with anti-Hindu matters. To get rid of such teachers from institutions is necessary else the entire nation will become anti-Hindu. Protecting young minds from such teachers is our agenda,” they said parroting what probably was told to them by their seniors.

I filed my report again. My boss was happy again.

The strike did not continue the following day. But I kind of fearlessly walked around the University College.

After a few days the students were on strike again for the same matter. This time I informed my boss and said, “I will go cover the strike.”

When I entered the campus the ABVP President was washing his face under the college garden tap. Some ABVP members who saw me took to him saying, “Our friend is here again.” The ABVP President was uncomfortable seeing me. He slowly walked away telling the other members of ABVP, “He is not our friend,” and while walking away he said, “Nobody will speak to him anymore. Its an instruction we have got.” I walked fast towards the President and put my hand around his shoulder asking, “What happened? What is the matter?” to which he said, “I have been told that you are not with us and have reported against us.” I asked him, pretending to be shocked, if he had read the newspaper to say so. He said, “No. But those who read told me. So I cant speak to you. Its an instruction we have got.”

I reported saying the ABVP had strict instruction from higher ups to not to speak to The Hindu. The strike did not continue after that. But ABVP continued creating problems in the College about which my other sources told me and I did report about them.

Everytime anywhere in the country ABVP makes some noise I cant help but recollect these incidents from 2009 from my experience where the ABVP’s unintelligence came across so well.

But now it is not that funny since the political powers, with whom they were in touch even then, have started acting more than before. But amidst all the terror they have unleashed recollecting this episode gives me a laughter break!

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