What happened between the Republic crew and AMU students?


FEBRUARY 13, 2019

A detailed account of eye-witnesses

On Tuesday, February 12, Sharjeel Usmani, a student of political science at the Aligarh Muslim University, alleged in a Facebook post that a crew from Republic TV “was reporting live that ‘we’re standing in the university of terrorists’”. According to Usmani’s post, upon intervention by students, one of the cameramen manhandled them and called them terrorists. This was followed by the cameraman attacking the students with a pen.

Raghu Karnad, chief of bureau at The Wire, tweeted a thread with a similar narrative.

Newslaundry reached out to Usmani, several other students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), as well as Republic TV journalist Nalini Sharma, who was at the centre of the drama, to look at what exactly occurred at the University.

“There was a programme going on in the university and a crew from Republic TV was here to cover it,” said a student who witnessed the incident and wished to remain anonymous. “They were talking to some boys from the campus and were behaving rudely with them. They said things like, ‘students at AMU are not capable of making it to national politics’. Some even called them terrorists. This angered the boys and the crew was warned. When they didn’t heed the warning, a scuffle broke out and the boys snatched the crew’s camera and smashed it.” When asked if he heard the Republic crew call students terrorists first-hand, he denied. He said he had heard so from other students.

What was Republic TV covering at AMU? According to a witness who wishes to remain anonymous, the reason for the channel’s presence was the news of AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi being invited to the university. On February 10, Times of India had reported: “Owaisi has been invited by the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union (AMUSU) along with other Muslim parties’ presidents to discuss the formation of a new political front to fight for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.”

Nishant Bhardwaj, a cabinet member of the AMUSU, told Newslaundry that the union “had planned to call Owaisi, but he declined citing a busy schedule”. AMUSU president Salman Imtiyaz confirmed this.

So what was the event about? “The event was organised by the AMUSU and it was going to feature leaders from several Muslim political parties who also happen to be former members of the AMUSU,” Bhardwaj said. There were 15-16 political parties present at the meeting, including All India Muslim Majlis, Social Democratic Party of India, Parcham Party of India, Hindustan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the National Aman Party.

Nalini Sharma, Republic TV’s legal correspondent, confirmed this to Newslaundry. However, once it was clear that Owaisi would not be coming to the campus, Sharma and team were asked to go live and talk about the recent development of Akhilesh Yadav being stopped from taking a flight to Allahabad at the Lucknow airport. “While I was standing on live, there is this security official—he identified himself as one, he wasn’t in uniform or anything—who came in and asked us to stop recording in campus. Since I was live on TV, I didn’t respond to what he was saying, thinking I’ll talk to him once the live is over.”

According to Sharma, at this point, the supposed security official got agitated and allegedly misbehaved with the cameraperson and tried to block the live telecast by covering the camera frame. “That’s when I moved out from the frame, telling him not to touch the camera. That’s when I got off the live,” Sharma says. “He tried to toy with our camera and I stood between him and my cameraperson and told him not to touch any of our equipment,” she added. According to the journalist, this ensuing argument with the official attracted a crowd of around 150-200 students. “Once they saw that we were holding the Republic TV mics, they started heckling us about the fact that we were from Republic TV. They asked us about permissions and who let us inside the campus,” she stated.

The video of the altercation can be seen in the footage put out by Republic TV.

According to witnesses, the venue of the event was the conference room in the Faculty of Social Sciences. The Republic TV crew was covering the event outside this venue.

But Bhardwaj, along with four other witnesses in the university, stated that it was the Republic crew which provoked and abused the students. At least two witnesses personally heard the crew abusing the students, while one pointed to the cameraperson, another accused journalist Nalini Sharma of dropping several F-bombs on the crowd.

However, when asked whether they personally heard the journalist use the word “terrorists”, their answers became unclear. Either they reached the spot too late, or the information received was hearsay, or from Sharjeel Usmani’s Facebook post.

Speaking to Newslaundry, Sharjeel Usmani claimed that Republic TV’s Sharma got too close to him and called him a terrorist. “When the security officials and students approached Republic TV’s crew to ask them to stop reporting, one of their teams politely obliged. When we approached the second team, they were very rude and abusive. She [Nalini Sharma] literally pushed me and came very close to me, saying ‘you are not going to tell me what to do’ and that ‘we won’t be intimidated by you terrorists’,” he stated.

Usmani claims he then turned to the cameraman, asking him to stop recording. “He [cameraman] literally said, ‘Abhi phaadta hu tum logo ki’ and then signalled to the reporter [Sharma] to start speaking. He started his camera and the reporter went ‘We are standing in the university of terrorists, and we’re being attacked by the students here’. This is when I turned off their camera, and the cameraman pushed me to the ground.” Usmani claims that at this point his friend Gotham K intervened and he too was pushed away.

Newslaundry reached out to Gotham, who denied hearing the word “terrorist”, saying that he arrived late on the scene. Usmani alleges that he witnessed Sharma calling students “terrorists” multiple times.

Sharjeel Usmani also said: “Most of the students who come to AMU come from a rural background. They come from madrassas and from boarding schools in UP and Bihar. Ninety per cent of them are not very good in English and do not know how to handle the media … most of the students didn’t want to engage with these reporters because they were from Republic TV. But even generally, we are advised not to engage with media by the university administration.”

(Note: Sharjeel Usmani has been a regular contributor to Campus Politik, a Newslaundry platform where students report on issues in their colleges/universities. The last piece he wrote for us was in May 2018.)

All witnesses denied having any visual or pictorial evidence of the incident.

Sharma categorically denies that she used the word “terrorist” throughout the incident. “There was absolutely no mention of any form of terrorism or terrorist, as is being claimed by just one student. You can go back and see it in my live report,” she says. “I’m appalled by this ludicrous version that’s coming out, that Republic TV reporters called students terrorists. It’s absurd and I can’t believe that people are making this up out of thin air. If anybody can bring any proof at all of me using the word ‘terrorist’ in AMU then I’ll go personally apologise to each and every one of those men who physically and mentally harassed me. It’s absolutely false.”

****

There are differing accounts about how the crew’s camera was broken. While one student alleges that the AMU students broke it, another member of the student union states that the crew broke the camera itself and blamed it on the students. Nishant Bhardwaj, cabinet member of the AMU, provided a middle ground, saying the camera came apart during the scuffle between the students and the journalists.

Speaking to Newslaundry, AMUSU president Salman Imtiyaz claims that the scuffle was orchestrated. “When the students objected to being called terrorists, they called their BJP-RSS crowd and orchestrated the drama. There were no students involved in it. They’re running a propaganda campaign.”

Sharma’s account differs. She says that after being heckled and harassed by the crowd, she moved to a different location in the campus where the crew was waiting for a car. “This is when the entire crowd started following us again … and we were just two female journalists and three males in the crew. Everyone else there was a male. Not a single female in this entire crowd. They kept following us and even threatened us. I asked my cameraperson to get all this on tape,” she says. She claims that once the crowd saw the camera, they jumped on the cameraman and pushed him into the bushes, snatching the camera from him.

“This is when it got supremely violent,” she adds. “They formed a human chain near the university gate and said ‘don’t let these two women get out’. They pushed us back and asked for our phones to see the footage we captured.” Sharma claims that her male colleagues managed to get out of the chain and “pulled” the two female journalists from “down under”.

AMU students informed Newslaundry that the press needs to take permission from the Public Relation Officer (PRO) in the university administration before covering any event within the premises. Newslaundry reached out to the university’s PRO, Omar Saleem Peerzada, for comments. “In every academic institution, you need to seek permission from the administration if you’re entering the premises to cover something. It’s part of the code of conduct,” he said. Referring to the incident, he confirmed that students indeed raised objections to Republic TV’s coverage within the campus. “There were some arguments after which they [Republic TV crew] were respectfully escorted out of the campus.” Did the channel have the PRO’s permission? “They didn’t have my permission. In fact, they didn’t even ask for it,” Peerzada added.

Republic TV’s Nalini Sharma states that she did have the permission. “Two of our teams from Delhi had reached AMU. The other team, which got there before me, had met the PRO and received their permission to record inside the campus.” When asked who met the PRO, Sharma says it was a local reporter who accompanied the team. “He was aware that one has to seek permission from the university to record anything. He had specifically taken the second team to the PRO and they told him that they were here to cover an event. They even sat down and spoke to him.” There is no written proof of the permission to the Republic TV team.

***

After exiting the university, police officials came up to the Republic TV crew and escorted them to a safe spot. According to Sharma, Republic TV’s offices had contacted a BJP MP, informing him about how their team was treated within the university. “By this time, police officials had received a call from higher authorities, who told them that something’s happening at AMU and that you need to take care of it,” she adds.

Following this, the Republic TV team asked the police authorities to help them get back the camera that the crowd in AMU campus had allegedly snatched from her crew. After expressing hesitation, the police officials called the university authorities. Sharma says: “They simply denied having the camera. It has all our footage. They said their students didn’t have it. The police official told me—and these are his exact words—that ‘campus ke andar hum bhi kuch nahi kar sakte [we can’t take any action on things that happen inside the campus]’.”

The team finally filed an FIR at the Civil Lines police station in Aligarh, demanding a strict investigation into the matter. Sharma says she filed it against the “mob” that heckled and harassed her team but could only identify one person in it: a certain Azeem Akhtar.

***

Another student, who also wishes to remain anonymous, adds that there were two separate incidents in the university on February 12. One was the ugly episode between the Republic crew and the university students which took place around 1 pm, which he witnessed.

The other was a protest outside the university gates by an AMU student named Ajay Singh Thakur along with several other “externals” not associated with the university. “These people were opposing Owaisi’s entry into the university, even though everyone knew he wasn’t coming,” the student stated. “Around 4 or 5 pm, they came inside the campus in a Scorpio and on some bikes. When students tried to bar their entry, they opened fire and there was a violent ruckus. The externals eventually fled and the angry students set their bikes on fire,” the student says.

Salman Imtiyaz, president of the AMUSU, told Newslaundry that the ruckus by Republic TV and the open firing was planned. He alleges that there was an ulterior motive of disturbing communal harmony in the university. “AMU has always been the torchbearer of Hindu-Muslim unity. They came here with the intention of creating disharmony. All of this was done to defame the university before the general elections,” he stated.

***

On February 13, Scroll.in reported that the Bharatiya Janata Party Yuva Morcha filed an FIR against 14 students of the Aligarh Muslim University. According to images published by the online platform Beyond Headlines, the students were booked under nine sections of the Indian Penal Code, one of them being 124-A—sedition. AMUSU president Salman Imtiyaz is one of 14 named in the FIR.

Speaking to Newslaundry, Salman stated that these 14 students were chosen at random, and not for any particular reason. He claims that some of these students are not in Aligarh but out of station. “The leader of this gang [BJP Yuva Morcha], Mukesh Sharma, had declared that a temple must be built inside the university only a couple of months ago.” A report published in Amar Ujala is December 2018 confirms this. He, along with other sources, further confirmed reports of an AMU student named Mohammad Arif Khan being allegedly beaten up near the university gates around 12 am on February 12. According to Imtiyaz, Mukesh Sharma was behind the attack. Mohammad Arif Khan is currently admitted in a hospital.

Several students in the university also rubbished reports of “Pakistan zindabad” slogans being raised in the university.

Source: newslaundry.com



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