Released on bail after his arrest from Singhu border, freelance journalist Mandeep Punia is undeterred by the brutal treatment he faced in custody. With notes scribbled on his body to write a story on the arrested farmers lodged in jail, a determined Punia stated his report from inside Tihar would be out soon.
Punia, 43, contributes to The Caravan Magazine among other publications. He said the cops dragged him to a tent when he intervened when they were pulling away another journalist, Dharmendra Singh, who was standing next to him, at Singhu.
He alleged, in the tent, he was beaten with sticks and abused, his small mirrorless camera and Samsung phone were broken. He was then put in a white Scorpio and taken to three-four police stations and for medical check-up at 2 am. He said he was taken to the lockup around 3 am. He said the police knew his name.
Speaking to reporters after his release, Punia said he was stopped from doing his work and that many others like him who report on rural India were stopped. “Reporting from ground zero is the most challenging. Those in power have made it very challenging,” he said.
Punia also asked for the release of Kappan Siddique, the Kerala journalist who was arrested last October when he was on his way to UP’s Hathras to report on the alleged gangrape and death of a Dalit woman. Kappan’s habeus corpus petition is pending before the top court.
“Our work is to report. I was sent to Tihar and from there also I managed to get a report. I will definitely present in to you tomorrow. I wrote my journalistic notes on my legs,” stated Punia. He said he met arrested farmers in jail. “The government has given me a chance by getting me arrested. I turned this into an opportunity of speaking to the arrested farmers,” he said, adding that he has noted their names and statements.
In Tihar, he said, he received a warm welcome from the prisoners, mostly farmers, who knew his name and that he was assaulted by police. There he realised the importance of reporting for those persecuted by power and that’s when he arranged for a pen and started taking notes on his body.
Punia also talked about how difficult it has become to report from the ground. “We will not deter from reporting,” he said, stating that the reporters will respond to the powers trying to oppress them. “We will fight it together,” added Punia.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh demanding rollback of Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporations. However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.