Indian police stand guard at the Ayyappa shrine at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state on January 2, 2019. On January 23, two reporters were attacked while covering a protest about the shrine. (Image via AFP)

Indian TV crew assaulted by Hindu far-right protesters over Sabarimala shrine coverage

February 1, 2019 10:02 AM ET

Two journalists from independent Telugu-language news channel Mojo TV were harassed and assaulted by members of a right-wing group in the city of Hyderabad, India, on January 23, 2019, one of the reporters told the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reporter Prathibha Priyadarshani Mukkera and camera person Bhanu Mudhiraj were covering a protest when demonstrators attacked them, Mukkera told CPJ.

The protests were linked to the Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam shrine in Kerala state, a shrine to the Hindu god Ayyappa which traditionally barred most women from entering, according to the Indian Express newspaper. In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that all pilgrims regardless of gender and age should be allowed to enter the temple, a judgement that has been opposed by conservative religious groups and Hindu right-wing political parties, according to various media reports.

Mojo TV was the first station to send a female reporter to cover the entry of women into the temple on October 19, 2018, Mojo TV's CEO and lead anchor Revathi Pogadadanda told CPJ.

"We took an editorial stand to support the court's decision," she said. "This has not gone well with conservative devotees and right-wing activists."

"Since then, we have been getting a lot of threats," Pogadadanda added.

Less than a week after its initial coverage of the shrine, Mojo TV reporter Y Shiva was hit by Ayyappa devotees who also tried to take his camera while reporting in Vijayawada, the channel reported.

On January 23, the channel sent Mukkera and Mudhiraj to cover a hunger strike by right-wing protesters in Hyderabad, in Telangana state, opposed to the admission of women to the shrine, Mukkerta told CPJ.

"We were doing our job when some of the protesters recognized our logo. They started shouting [insults] at us," she said. As the protesters became increasingly agitated, police intervened and asked the journalists to leave the scene, Mukkera told CPJ.

"We were returning back to our vehicle when a few men followed us and asked us 'Why have you come when we didn't call you?' I tried to tell them I'm doing my job as a journalist when one of them pushed me and another started beating up my colleague," she said.

Mukkera told CPJ that her colleague was slapped multiple times by the protesters.

Pogadadanda told CPJ that she believes the police were too deferential to the protesters, saying the journalists were forced to move further away from the protest than was necessary.

"The police cannot stop us from doing our duty. We were not creating any disturbance," she said.

A Mojo TV representative later met with Hyderabad's commissioner of police and filed a complaint concerning the officers' actions, Pogadadanda said.

CPJ sent a text message seeking comment to Telangana Director General of Police Mahender Reddy, whose office oversees law enforcement in Hyderabad, and did not receive a response.

Female journalists covering the Sabarimala issue have been facing backlash from Hindu right-wing groups since the Supreme Court judgement, according to Indian news website Firstpost. In November 2018, a group of Ayyappa devotees issued a statement to media organizations asking to restrict the number of women sent to Sabarimala for coverage, according to the Network of Women in Media, India, an organization that advocates for the rights of female journalists.

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