‘I was pushed out of Azad Maidan’

The melee outside Azad Maidan after the incident on Tuesday night.  

I wasn’t supposed to be a part of this story.

It was 10 p.m. on what appeared to be a regular workday. Just before I wound up, I decided to make a quick trip to Azad Maidan, where a protest was in progress against the proposed oil refinery in Ratnagiri's Nanar village. I had got wind of a potential stand-off between police and protesters, and decided to head there.

As I entered the main gate of Azad Maidan, which faces the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation headquarters, a police officer stopped me in my tracks and asked to check the bag I was carrying. I showed him the bag, told him I was a journalist, and showed him my State government accreditation card. The word ‘journalist’ appeared to have triggered him. He grabbed my shoulder and said I could not enter the ground. Surprised, I asked him why.

“Don't ask questions. Do what I tell you. Journalists are not allowed,” he said. I quickly checked his identity. Jagnath Ganage, Sub Inspector, Azad Maidan police station.

I tried reasoning with him, but he pushed me with both hands and began to raise his voice: “Do not ask questions, just go away.” Four constables and another sub-inspector (I couldn’t read his name, in the melee) rushed to Mr. Ganage’s side. Things soon turned physical. Mr. Ganage pushed me out of the main gate, telling me that no one apart from protesters was allowed there. He asked me to call the senior inspector of Azad Maidan police station, Vasant Wakhare. “Wait for 30 minutes. Negotiations are on,” he said [The police was in the midst of negotiations with the protesters, asking them to leave the ground. They had earlier announced they would not leave until the Chief Minister had met them].

I asked him how negotiations can stop a journalist from entering the ground, but he refused to answer. A call to Mr. Wakhare didn’t help either.

The two sub-inspectors, in the meantime, kept trying to push me out. I asked them to show me the order barring journalists from the venue. The answer was, “There is none.”

For me, as perhaps for all journalists in the city, this was a first. A new low. Why would a journalist doing his job be stopped by the authorities so brazenly?

Senior police officers were unavailable for comment. In response to my tweet, the Mumbai police had this to say: “We are forwarding your complaint to the concerned Supervisory Officer.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 9:09:38 PM |

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