Saturday night’s vigilante attack on a group of young girls and boys, and which was caught on tape by a television crew, has revived the debate about what journalists are supposed to do in situations like this. The Mangalore police have charged Naveen Soorinje, a reporter, and Shiva Kumar, camera person, as well as the attackers under the same sections of the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Seeking to put his side of the story in the public domain Mr. Soorinje spoke to The Hindu.
Q: Why did you not inform the police?
A: I called the [jurisdictional] police inspector and he did not pick his calls. I called a reporter from another channel and asked him to call the police. That reporter too could not get through to the police inspector.
But the police allege that you made that call after the attack, and after you had shot the scenes.
That is not true; my phone records are proof.
It is being alleged that the attackers informed you in advance.
I was informed by a mechanic who has a shop in the same area. Again, my phone records should be enough to prove this.
Why did you not inform the Police Commissioner?
He was not in Mangalore. His flight landed in the city around about the time the attack was taking place.
The Home Minister has alleged that you or your cameraman was holding up a girl’s face for the camera.
That is not true to the best of my knowledge. The Home Minister might have confused the attackers with us.
Why did you not help the girls?
There were at least 70 attackers from the Hindu Jagarana Vedike; we were just two. If you watch the video, there is a male voice asking the attackers to spare the girls. That voice was mine. That is all I could do at the time.
What if one of the victims was your relative? Would you still have done nothing?
Firstly, that is not a fair question. And there have been cases where women have been molested and humiliated by vigilante groups in front of their families in Mangalore. The fathers, brothers and lovers were forced to watch helplessly.
There are some who say that you were more interested in TRP ratings than helping the girls.
If I was interested in TRPs, I would not have passed on the exclusive video footage to every Kannada, Hindi and English channel in the country. I wanted to help the girls, but more importantly I wanted the world to see what happens here almost every day and how the police deal with such crimes.
How do the police deal with such crimes?
If you see Saturday night’s footage, you will notice that even after the police arrived on the spot, no action was taken against the attackers. They continued to attack the girls as the police were trying to take them to safety and the police did not retaliate. If I had not shot the entire shocking episode, no action would have been taken against the vigilantes. What few people see is that there has been a rise in such incidents in Dakshina Kannada over the last few months. Every time the police has booked cases of obscenity against the victims and allowed the vigilantes to walk free. If the police were doing their job, these groups would not have dared to carry out such attacks. And now that we have exposed the administration’s failing, they want to shoot the messenger.
The attackers seemed to be encouraged by the fact that you were shooting the scene.
What we have shown is only some of the more decent shots. What we saw through own eyes and chose not to shoot, was nothing short of rape.
There are some who say that the victims were further shamed by the filming.
Why should they be ashamed? They did nothing wrong. They were not doing the molesting and beating.
How do you respond to the police filing a case against you and your cameraman?
I have no problem with the fact that they have booked us. But I am happy that our visuals helped identify eight of the people they have arrested.