Journalist Babita Gautam was allegedly harassed by (unconfirmed) CYSS members at a programme ‘Rozgar Sansad’, organised at Jantar Mantar, Delhi on 19th December 2021. Read more to find out what ensued on that day and what the two involved sides have to say about it.
On 19th December 2021, Sunday, a programme by the name of ‘Rozgar Sansad’ was organized at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi to deliberate upon a recent draft of a ‘National Employment Policy’ prepared by a think tank to press for an increase in employment opportunities. The programme saw the presence of more than thirty student organisations, RWAs and teachers’ bodies and was addressed by Gopal Rai, a minister in the Delhi cabinet.
Members from the youth division of the Aam Aadmi Party, that is the Chatr-Yuva Sangarsh Samiti (CYSS), were also present on the day. During this programme, friction ensued between some CYSS members and a journalist from The Mooknayak (a media platform dedicated to marginalized, unprivileged, and Bahujan society), Babita Gautam.
Recounting the incidents from that day, Babita Gautam talked about how when questioned about the Kejriwal government opening up more liquor shops in Delhi and the effect it might have on enticing the unemployed youth, a person from the crowd justified it by saying that it is better that the youth go to liquor shops rather than moving towards self-harm.
I asked that do you want more liquor shops to be opened up? So, some people from the crowd said yes. So, then my question was that do you not want employment but rather want liquor shops? So, some people who were standing there again said yes.” she told DU Beat.
A video uploaded on the official twitter handle of The Mooknayak showed this interaction which also included Anusha Singh, the Delhi state secretary at CYSS.
— The Mooknayak (@The_Mooknayak) December 19, 2021
This video although showing only a part of what happened on that day cannot be completely and blindly referred considering that the many interruptions from the crowd, missing or inaudible audio snippets and hooting from behind leave a lot to be speculated. Even though the questions from Babita Gautam can be clearly heard in the video, the very controversial crowd responses towards the end are undecipherable at best, thereby infringing upon the only evidence that might have backed this account.
Another video uploaded on the same official Twitter account of The Mooknayak shows the misbehaviour that was directed towards Babita Gautam by an alleged CYSS member.
— The Mooknayak (@The_Mooknayak) December 19, 2021
Narrating this incident, Babita Gautam told DU Beat,
…the crowd started pulling at my shawl, trying to pull my mic towards them, started disrespecting me and shouting things like “Godi media”. At the same time, a boy came out from the crowd who first used abusive language and the way that he was coming felt like he would have killed me if the purple shirt person (Ritesh Shrivastava) had not been present there.”
This allegation about the perpetrator being a CYSS member has been strongly denied by the president of the CYSS, Delhi state, Adv. Chandra Mani Dev. On the other hand, he went on to highlight how one of their members (shown wearing an ID card), Ritesh Shrivastava, Delhi state secretary, was constantly trying to stop that person and diffuse the situation. He denied any involvement of CYSS regarding this incident and was rather convinced that this might have been the act of anti-social elements who were trying to disrupt the protest and ruin its purpose.
…. we couldn’t recognise that person in CYSS yet and he wasn’t even wearing an ID card. So, he was not a member of CYSS.” said Rishi Kumar Gupta, general secretary of CYSS, Delhi state.
Even though the argument presented here by CYSS is not the most credible one, considering that there is no way to cross-check their statement in retrospect, it does present a sliver of doubt in their favour. Moreover, here it becomes important to emphasise and understand that in any protest it is extremely difficult to identify and remove the anti-social elements from the protesting group or vice-versa as obviously there is no demarcating feature or mark that they might be wearing to distinguish themselves from the crowd.
On the contrary, this opinion is not one that is shared by Babita Gautam as she describes how everyone in that crowd seemed to be interacting with each other. She does corroborate the effort made by Ritesh Shrivastava but also points out that the woman candidate (Anusha Singh) was laughing and not even trying to stop them. Babita Gautam continued,
…I am not at all satisfied with this testimony of theirs. ….. In my opinion, if they were anti-social elements then why were you laughing and was the entire crowd anti-social elements? (And if they were) then why did CYSS not separate themselves from that crowd?”
On another tangent, the term ‘Godi media’ (biased reporting), has been repeatedly coming up as an issue of contention in this incident, seen as a term used to question the sanctity of journalism and the credibility of a journalist. As a journalist, it becomes understandable that an individual might be offended by the use of such a term to address them or their reporting. This term has ended up becoming the nuclear bomb of journalism: a territory that needs to be tread on lightly and one that has resonating consequences.
The use of ‘Godi media’ made it seem like there was an attempt to deflect the questions being directed towards CYSS by journalist Babita Gautam who feels that nowadays the answerer has started using the crowd as a crutch to avoid answering difficult questions and rather targeting the questioning journalist itself.
Although CYSS has again denied any involvement in the use of any such term as the term was allegedly not even spoken by a CYSS member, it is impossible to really know if they were pursuing an attempt to deflect or not and whether there was any connection between the question asked and reaction that unfolded.
Putting forward their point of view on this, the CYSS president said,
…. this issue was also highlighted extensively on that day even though there was no such relation to the question asked. The anti-social elements that were present tried to create conflict based upon this.”
Rishi Kumar Gupta continued,
No one was offended by any of the questions. Our members were giving their point of view and also listening to Babita Gautam’s questions patiently…. which can be seen in the video.”
Later on the same day, CYSS Delhi published a tweet from their official account as an attempt to clear out the alleged confusion and misidentification of the person as a CYSS member. They ended up getting a response from the official Twitter handle of The Mooknayak wherein the account retweeted the tweet by CYSS Delhi. By virtue of the normative behaviour followed on social media platforms including Twitter, it seemed as if the situation had been neutralized and a resolution was at hand, but it seems as if this feeling ended up being only one-sided while the dispute was still in full swing from the other end.
@BaBitaGautam_ जी, @The_Mooknayak यह सुनकर बहुत दुःख हुआ।गोदी मीडिया जैसे शब्द का प्रयोग कुछ असामाजिक तत्वों द्वारा किया गया जो “रोज़गार आन्दोलन” में व्यवधान पैदा करना चाहते थे CYSS कार्यकर्ताओं ने मामले को शांत करने का प्रयास किया, महिलाओं के सम्मान के लिए CYSS सदैव आगे रही है।
— CYSS DELHI (@Cyss_AAP) December 19, 2021
.@The_Mooknayak संवाददाता @BabitaGautam_ के साथ आज जो हुआ उसपर @Cyss_AAP ने ट्वीट कर दिया स्पष्टीकरण, कहा- यह सुनकर दुख हुआ। गोदी मीडिया जैसे शब्द का प्रयोग कुछ असामाजिक तत्वों द्वारा किया गया। CYSS कार्यकर्ताओं ने मामले को शांत करने का प्रयास किया था।#साहसी_पत्रकार_बबीता_गौतम https://t.co/3IMysgtBgv
— The Mooknayak (@The_Mooknayak) December 19, 2021
Upon being asked a question regarding this tweeting-retweeting game, Babita Gautam clarified on her end,
The Mooknayak has retweeted their tweet only so that people may get to know what testimony has been given by CYSS in context of this incident. Currently, the Mooknayak is looking into this matter. There has been no resolution of the matter from my side because the explanation given by them is very childish and it seems like they are just shedding responsibility from the matter.”
Zeroing in on the question that started it all, what really is the reason behind the opening up of more liquor shops in Delhi? Is it an attempt to lead the youth astray? Or maybe even an attempt to secure a vote bank, that too one of the biggest? Upon being asked that same question that was asked by Babita Gautam on the day of the incident, the president of CYSS explained that the imposition of a ban does not necessarily ensure that alcohol would not be found in the region anymore. Giving the examples of states like Bihar and Gujarat, he continued on how there is no lack of alcohol in these states with smuggling being a major contributing factor. Recently, empty liquor bottles were also found at the Bihar assembly premises which started off a controversy of its own, blaming the government of being hypocritical. Giving the answer to this question, he said that first of all, he does not think that liquor shops are being opened in high numbers in Delhi but rather that it is being unnecessarily highlighted considering how close the MCD elections are. In addition, the only logic behind new liquor shops coming up in the city is to stop the smuggling and illegal sale of alcohol into the state.
Many times, you see that people die because of consuming poisonous alcohol, in Gujarat and in other places too. So, the point is that if inevitably alcohol is being sold, at least poisonous alcohol should not be sold or smuggling of alcohol should not be done,” he said.
This statement can be easily corroborated with the new liquor policy being implemented in Delhi, under which liquor shops are being equitably distributed with only private shops being run in the city from now onwards. According to reports, this has been done to reduce corruption, unauthorized vendors as well as bootlegging in the city, as was highlighted by the CYSS president.
Ultimately, the point here is that the solution to a problem is not always shutting the institution or the system down but rather deliberating and exercising active control over the said system itself.
When DU Beat presented this answer to Babita Gautam, she was asked about her opinion on this response to her question by CYSS to which she said,
… if they can give this answer now, they could have done so then as well. Then why did those people come down to being rude and disrespecting me, and why did they get angry (offended) on my question related to alcohol?”
In the end, it is clear that the alleged harassment directed towards Babita Gautam was an absolutely wrong and condemnable incident, from the point of view of journalistic freedom as well as normal human behaviour and conduct. What still remains unclear is that if the CYSS was really involved or not in this incident against Babita Gautam. The arguments from both sides have a mix of both believable and flaccid elements, but they clearly lack a certain level of credibility to necessarily implicate any one of them, making it extremely difficult to see this interaction in anything but a grey light. Clarity regarding the truth behind this incident can only be reached through proper effort and investigation as rightly pointed out by Adv. Chandra Mani Dev when he told DU Beat,
…. I believe that whoever is the wrongdoer in this scenario should definitely be prosecuted and Delhi police should take action and investigate.”
Feature Image Credits: Twitter (@The_Mooknayak)