Press Under Siege? The Caravan Journalists Face Legal Wrath Post Mob Assault

Sidra Fatima,

New Delhi: Three years after being assaulted by a Hindutva mob in northeast Delhi, three journalists from The Caravan have been booked under serious criminal charges. They have been accused of outraging the modesty of a woman and promoting communal enmity, raising significant concerns over press freedom in the country.

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The incident occurred on August 11, 2020, when Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh, and a female reporter from the magazine were allegedly attacked at Subhash Mohalla in the Trans Yamuna region while covering the aftermath of the February 2020 communal violence. The journalists were allegedly subjected to religious slurs, physical assault and death threats, with the female reporter also experiencing sexual harassment.

The attackers, claiming allegiance to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), purportedly targeted Tantray upon learning of his Muslim identity, continuing the assault until the arrival of police nearly an hour-and-a-half later.

Following the attack, the journalists filed detailed complaints at the Bhajanpura police station. However, their FIR was not lodged until three days later, on August 14, 2020. It was subsequently discovered that an FIR had been filed against them less than an hour before their own FIR, with no intimation provided to The Caravan regarding the counter FIR.

The charges against the journalists include sections 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman), 153A (promoting communal enmity), 323 (causing hurt) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). These charges stem from a complaint by a woman alleging molestation, abuse and assault by the journalists, with her statement recorded in court under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.).

Singh expressed shock and concern over the delayed FIR and subsequent legal proceedings, highlighting discrepancies in police handling and procedural irregularities.

“I learnt about the FIR filed against us only after four years, following a notice — directing us to appear at the Bhajanpura police station as accused. The incident took place on August 11, 2020, when the police escorted us to the station, where we submitted a detailed complaint. However, it raises concerns as to why the FIR took three days to be registered. What activities were the police engaged in during this time? This delay raises suspicions of potential facilitation to the assailants, granting them ample opportunity to concoct a retaliatory complaint against us,” he told

He said as directed, he went to the police station on June 7 and joined the probe. He also sought update in his case from the investigating officer (IO), who allegedly told him that he had received the case file just three days ago and was currently probing the incident. He, according to the journalist, was unaware of the actions taken by the previous IO of the case.

“He told me that the accused individuals were untraceable. I reminded him that in my complaint dated August 11, 2020, I had specifically named the accused who boasted about being a local BJP supporter, saying ‘aap humara kuch nahi bigad sakte ho, jisko marzi bula lo, jo marzi kar lo (You cannot harm us in any way. You can call anyone, do whatever you want)’. Although the officer assured me he would look into the matter, his responses were unsatisfactory. I insisted that my statement should have been recorded under Sections 161 and 164 of the Cr.P.C., as a very first step after lodging the FIR,” he stated.

He reiterated his commitment to journalistic integrity despite intimidation tactics, emphasizing the broader implications for press freedom.

“If the police action is aimed at intimidating and scaring journalists, we refuse to be deterred. I will continue to cover issues of public interest fearlessly. This incident will not hinder my commitment to honest journalism, which I have upheld over the years. It is a serious matter that impacts not only us but the entire journalist fraternity. Such actions make it challenging for the media to report boldly. The disregard of our FIR for four years, coupled with the pursuit of another FIR, which mirrors the charges we filed against them, is unacceptable and alarming,” he added.

The Caravan vehemently denied the allegations, denouncing them as “false” and “fabricated”. The magazine views the charges as an attempt to “stifle” independent reporting and undermine press freedom, calling for a fair and transparent investigation into the “attack” on its journalists.

“The attack on our journalists and the subsequent false allegations are a clear attempt to intimidate and silence us,” it stated in a statement. “This is an attack on press freedom and a violation of our rights to freedom of speech and expression.”

The publication has promised to remain committed to upholding its rights and challenging what it perceives as baseless allegations.

The Press Club of India (PCI), the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) have also condemned the FIR, urging its withdrawal and calling for a judicial inquiry. They emphasized the need to uphold press freedoms and ensure justice prevails in the face of growing “threats” to journalistic integrity.

Commenting on the registration of the FIR, an advocate, who is representing several accused in the riots cases, told, requesting anonymity, “The Delhi Police’s role appears biased, not only in this instance but in several other cases. Instead of conducting impartial investigations, they often attempt to shape a narrative. The delay in registering the FIR for three days was highly inappropriate. Police officials are obligated to promptly lodge an FIR upon receiving a complaint; they cannot delay it while verifying its accuracy.”

Attempts to reach out to senior police officials for comments failed as repeated calls by this reporter did not elicit response.