Sonal Mehrotra was attacked while reporting on Kanhaiya

arya sharma/catch news

Sonal Mehrotra was attacked while reporting on Kanhaiya's bail plea. It has only made her stronger

From being called a presstitute to a prostitute, from having her privates cursed to having her pictures morphed and distributed across social media and 'WhatsApp groups'. These are just some examples of the trouble a female journalist has to face while reporting on the field.

Sonal Mehrotra is a television journalist who, as recently as last month, was attacked by a mob dressed as lawyers in a courtroom in a Delhi court during Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar's bail hearing.

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As a woman journalist, Mehrotra explains, abuse both physical and verbal are a commonplace, but never something one gets accustomed to.

Last year, Mehrotra faced mistaken abuse on the part of someone else. That someone else was a young student who, raised a question, during an interview of IMF chief Christine Lagarde on the channels Mehrotra works for. That young student asked a question that stirred up a social media storm.

"I ignored the abuse on social media at first with the logic that I shouldn't add fuel to fire, but eventually they knew my alma mater and information on where I and my parents lived which got scary," Mehrotra says. "From friends, family and relatives, anyone close to me was cursed".

The question that the student raised was whether the benefits of growth in India would be limited to Hindu males because 'with the new government coming in we're noticing some disturbing trends of forces of communalism and patriarchy entering the economy.'

The bizarre allegation was that the television channel she worked for had planted the story and used Mehrotra to ask the question.

Seething with anger and after receiving multiple threats, Mehrotra explains that for the next two days she could not report or go to work.

On more than one occasion, she has also been called a presstitute for not having a similar opinion to that of a specific party. "It has become a generic term. I have been called a presstitute from across parties left and right, I have lost count really," she says.

The garb of anonymity on social media encourages abusers and trolls to not even consider and think about what they write. This puts reporters like Mehrotra in a tight spot, where even reporting on facts, let alone voicing one's opinion, could be received with abuse.

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Does the abuse and threats deter her from doing her job? "It does affect one mentally and you do start thinking twice before say, you cover a protest or a rally. The fear of an acid attack or someone physically abusing you is always looming,: but there isn't really any way out other than to rise above it."

Mehrotra has since received training on reporting in conflict situations which has helped her face mobs and threats better.

But it was impossible for her to have envisioned what had happened to her on the 15th of last month. On 15 February, within the premises of the Patiala House Court, where a sedition case against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was to be heard, lawyers and goons assaulted several students and reporters from various news organisations, with a large number of policemen present remaining mute spectators.

BJP MLA OP Sharma was also caught on camera pinning down the CPI minority cell leader Ameeque Jamei and assaulting him outside the court complex.

While on duty, Mehrotra was cornered in a courtroom with a journalist from a different news channel and was threatened that she would be assaulted if she did not delete the videos on her phone. Mehrotra had shot videos and pictures of people dressed as lawyers assaulting students and journalists. 15 minutes after the attack, she reported on the bail plea.

"The incident shocked me more after a day later, when Kanhaiya's bail was to be bought up again. I saw lawyers and goons threatening me again," Mehortra said. "This after a march by around a thousand of journalists including senior colleagues condemning the violence against journalists".

Vikram Singh Chauhan, a lawyer who was caught admitting that he and and his goons attacked journalists and students was arrested later on 24th of February, but were granted bail a few hours later.

But all that doesn't deter her from reporting on incidents like the one at the Patiala House Court.

Last year, Mehrotra was given a pepper-spray by Delhi Police chief BS Bassi.

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Vishakh Unnikrishnan

Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom