It was one evening in the 1960s. I was typing out my story in the Reporters’ Room of the newspaper office where I used to work. I was shaken when about five to six young men barged in the room after kicking open the wooden door. Armed with hockey sticks, they seemed to be in a nasty mood. I being the sole occupant of the cabin at that time, they came straight to me, with one of them asking: “Where is Sunil, your Crime Reporter?”
I told them that he must be out in the field on his routine job. “But why are you looking for him?” I asked him innocently even though their intentions were clear. Obviously, Sunil had antagonised this gang of criminals with his investigative reporting. That had, nevertheless, been well-received by the readers as well as the local administration. Those being formative years of my career, I was not familiar with the way criminal gangs operated and bullied people. For the first time, I was face-to-face with gangsters. On their asking, I honestly told them that Sunil should be back any moment and they could better wait for him at the Reception.
One of them discreetly displayed a firearm he was hiding on his person. The goons did go to the Reception, but instead of occupying chairs, they squatted atop the high wooden desk.
By then, those working in the hall had sensed serious trouble. There were no mobile phones those days. We had only two landlines for the entire editorial department. But we could not even inform the editor as the goons were keeping a vigil on the phones and had given a veiled warning.
I had to whisper to an office peon to go out and stop our colleague from coming into the office. While struggling to find a solution, I lied to the gangsters that Sunil had called up to inform that he was still on the job and would be quite late. It worked. The goons left hurling invectives on our Crime Reporter and all of us heaved a sigh of relief. The editor was informed, after which the police arrived, looking for the gangsters who had slipped away.
Next day, we learnt that all of them had been arrested.
For this cub reporter, it was a new but shocking experience. An aspiring journalist is often told that his is a noble profession that he ought to pursue without fear and favour to change the society with the power of his mighty pen!
However, I found that the ground situation was different. I did not know that the ‘all powerful’ scribe wielding the ‘mighty pen’ could also be bullied and intimidated in this manner.
Sixty years have passed since then.
Today, I feel that the professional perils of being a journalist have increased. Comparatively, things were not that bad then. With the passage of time and advent of technology, new types of hazards have popped up. New-age criminals do not have to go to an office, looking for someone, with hockey sticks and arms. The use of social media and the ease to access it from a mobile phone have enabled them to troll, threaten and harass a scribe to his or her wit’s end. This is happening in spite of cyberlaws and penal provisions.
— Lalit Raizada is a senior journalist based in India.