She was attacked by protesters to stop her from shooting the violence that broke out over the entry of two women into the Sabarimala temple.
Shajila Abdul Rahim should have been out in the field with her cam when Kerala is on the boil. But she has been out of action for the past few days, resting in her bedroom with a neck-brace restricting her movements.
On Thursday, Shajila, a cameraperson with Kairali Television, became a social media sensation after the Mathrubhumi newspaper published a photo of her filming Sangh Parivar protests in Thiruvananthapuram, with her lips quivering in anguish and tears streaming down her face. Just a moment ago, she was being heckled, abused and shoved by the protesters to stop her from shooting the violence that broke out over the entry of two women in their 40s into the Sabarimala temple.
She is one of several journalists attacked outside the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday after they camped there to get reactions from the BJP-RSS leaders, who have been on a hunger strike over the temple issue. The journalists had just managed to get sound bites from BJP state vice-president Sivarajan and general secretary M.T. Ramesh, when they were told to wait for a planned Sangh Parivar rally.
“It was like an invite to trouble. The protesters came vandalising flex boards and other things on the roadsides. They then pounced on the visual journalists filming the violence. News18 technical assistant Santhosh Ravi was the first to be attacked. Then they turned the ire on Mathrubhumi TV cameraman Biju Surya,” Shajila narrated to Khaleej Times on Saturday.
MP Unnikrishnan,Mathrubhumi photographer who took Shajila’s photo
“All this while, I was shooting. A crowd of seven-eight protesters started to chase Asianet journalist Prakula, who was holding a microphone. Deccan Chronicle photojournalist Peethambaran Payyeri, who was shooting the chase, was set upon by another group. I was shooting that when they then turned against me, abusing me with unprintable slurs and threatening me with dire consequences,” Shajila said.
But she kept the camera rolling, filming Payyeri and Media One videographer Rajesh Vadakara being attacked. Media One technician Amjath Sherif and technical assistant Sumesh were also assaulted and their equipment damaged.
“That’s when they pounced on me, attacking me from behind. I was kicked on my back and shoulders. Three or four people also attacked my camera, trying to snatch it from me. I held on to it. They threatened to kill me. They also beat up my assistant Gokul. My mike was thrashed to pieces.”
Commenting on her viral photo, Shajila said she was not crying out of fear. “I was writhing in pain as I had sprained my neck in the push and pull. I was shocked because it was the worst experience in my career spanning 10 years.
“It was tears of anguish, anger and helplessness. I was also sad because I realised I had lost some precious visuals as my camera had to be restarted after the attack. I told myself to calm down and not cry. I didn’t want people to see my pain, so I was trying to hide my face behind the camera, when Mathrubhumi photographer MP Unnikrishnan snapped me. Right man at the right time,” Shajila said.
Unnikrishnan said there was no time and space to frame the shot. “I could hardly see her through the crowd. Her image with tears and quivering lips, seen through a small gap, immediately caught my attention. But whatever I got of her was precious. Helplessness was writ large on her face. It was one of those rare moments,” said Unnikrishnan.
Shajila said she kept shooting for nearly two hours after the incident, till she was called back to the studio. “It was a defining moment in my life. The incident changed my perception. I am now more determined than ever,” Shajila said.
“I will be out in the field again in a couple of days. I will still be covering protests and rallies. That’s what I have been doing for years. I had been a witness to much bigger rallies and historic moments. But this one was different because it broke all the prevailing code of ethics. In an event like this, the protesters would typically do what they are supposed to do, such as burning and vandalising. The journalists would do reporting and filming. And the cops would take care of the law and order. In hindsight, I feel this was preplanned.
“The most significant takeaway from the incident is that it has increased my level of social responsibility. The realisation my tears pained the people and that the world is with you irrespective of what happens is heartening. If I am down, there will be scores of others like me in the field. And if they are down, there will be hundreds of others. Courage is contagious,” Shajila added.