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Meet the journalism student who almost lost his career for shouting anti-Barkha Dutt slogans

A journalism student shouted slogans against Barkha Dutt during an anti-corruption protest organised by Anna Hazare supporters. What followed was a tale of vendetta and witchhunt.

Recently Barkha Dutt went on an overdrive to interview JNU Student Union’s President Kanhaiya Kumar, who was arrested and later released on conditional bail on charges of sedition after anti-India slogans were shouted on the campus. After coming out on bail, Kanhaiya gave an anti-government and anti-Modi speech, after which he has become the darling of some political parties and some sections of the media, especially of Barkha Dutt, who’s tweeting about him almost as much as she tweeted about her book a while back – basically making a strong sales pitch.

There is nothing wrong in interviewing someone, especially a student, who protested against the Prime Minister, but perhaps Barkha Dutt forgot how she reacted when a student protested against her.

It was back in 2011, when Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement was at its peak and Radia tapes were leaked. Barkha Dutt was one of the journalists whose conversations with lobbyist Niira Radia were leaked and it was alleged as a proof of moral corruption and ethical wrongdoing, even if no proof of quid-pro-quo appeared to be there.

Many felt that journalists like Barkha Dutt had no moral rights to lecture about corruption when their own record was blemished. One of those who felt this was a journalism student at IIMC (Indian Institute of Mass Communication), which incidentally is situated in the JNU campus.

On the evening of 9th April 2011, this student, Yogesh Kumar Sheetal, was present at an anti-corruption gathering at India Gate in New Delhi. He saw Barkha Dutt present there, and he couldn’t control his anguish. He shouted a few slogans against Barkha and soon many joined him. Barkha had to leave the spot.

But it appears that she decided not to leave Yogesh so easily. A complaint against Yogesh was made to the Course Director at IIMC, and he was served a show cause notice. And that was just the beginning. decided to talk to Yogesh about what he had to experience after his expression of dissent. Following are the highlights of the interview.

Q: Did it all start with a complaint to your course director at IIMC, or were you warned of the consequences even before that? You have previously said you were intimidated…

Ans: No. Things came into action immediately after Barkha Dutt left the venue. People were getting extremely aggressive following physical assault by NDTV crews on protesters including women. I was not warned, I was directly targeted, but it misfired because of bad preparation by NDTV as they didn’t have the time to hatch a foolproof conspiracy. In less than half an hour, NDTV could only plan to file an assault case against me. NDTV’s Ruby Dhingra was planted as a victim and other crew members were presented as eye witnesses. It all started when a girl appeared out of the blue and started leveling number of serious allegations against me. I was stunned. Many people who gathered against Barkha Dutt had gone back to their work, but some of them were still walking around by that time.

Yogesh Kumar Sheetal
Yogesh Kumar Sheetal (pic courtesy his Twitter profile)

NDTV did first mistake when Ruby appeared before me along with her crew, expecting me to be alone and easy to be targeted. I was caught by NDTV’s crew and dragged to police. She told police that I assaulted her and put other allegations too. Her allegations were promptly reinforced by her crew members. Neither Ruby nor any of her crew members informed the police that they’re from NDTV. They were trying to portray that they had come for Anna’s movement.

During the same time, a lady and some protesters reached out to me to understand the situation. I didn’t notice that some protesters were still there. They knew what had happened and so they started shouting slogans again, and one of them exposed Ruby Dhingra. They explained to the police that I was innocent and the complainant has manufactured a story to malign me. After a short interrogation I was asked to go.

This was the starting point. The very next day I received a call from an unknown number. I was threatened that I would have to eat 22 Salfas tablets if I do not shut my mouth against Barkha Dutt. Perhaps the same day I was handed over a notice from IIMC, where I was a student of Hindi Journalism.

Q: When you were given a show cause notice by your institute, were you scared about your career prospects?

Ans: I was disturbed because of back to back threatening calls, but I was not scared. I had nothing to lose, so I had no reason to be scared. But, let me confess that I turned pessimistic about my career. This should not be read as “scared”.

Q: How did you survive and manage to get a diploma from IIMC? Did that incident haunt you and you feared that you could be failed?

Ans: There’s a saying in English, “Fear of danger is worse than the danger itself”. I was psychologically under pressure. That episode didn’t haunt me in IIMC since IIMC is not a Private Company like NDTV. Had I failed, I would have filed an RTI. I was prepared for that.

Q: How tough was it to get a job after getting the diploma? Were you told in clear terms that your slogan shouting against Barkha Dutt was something that was working against you?

Ans: One can understand it very easily. I don’t wish to recall those unpleasant days anymore but I do wish to recall one thing again and again. Due to this entire incident, I could meet A S Raghunath Sir, Anil Kohli Sir and many people. Twitter made everything possible for me. Raghunath Sir arranged my internship in a Hindi Tabloid Newspaper and till now I’m blessed with the guidance of Raghunath Sir and Anil Kohli Sir.

Q: What is your family background? Could you have afforded not getting a job due to such vindictive attitude of a celebrity journalist?

Ans: I belong to an average middle class family based in Begusarai, Bihar. It’s tough for me to imagine what I would have done had I not been helped by A S Raghunath Sir. I think I could have moved back to Bihar and started preparations for a competitive examination after ditching my dream to be a journalist. I always remember a couplet of famous Hindi poet Pash “Sabse khatarnak hota hai sapno ka mar jana“. I’m fortunate that my dream still survives and I want to be known as a journalist till my life.

Q: Did you ever try to get in touch with Barkha Dutt or someone in the NDTV to apologize or to “settle” the matter so that your career progresses smoothly?

Ans: I dismissed this idea with the contempt it deserved. I was residing in New Ashok Nagar, Delhi and getting Rs 6788/- as salary. It was a very difficult situation for me. For 2 years, I have had the worst phase of my life. There were days when I didn’t even have money to recharge my cellphone or to fulfil my daily basic needs like newspaper and magazines. There were days when I could only manage to make missed calls to people and get frustrated when people didn’t give a call back. However, every time I thought of settling things, I felt like I was betraying my well wishers.

Credibility is everything. If you don’t have integrity, credibility, character, discipline, manner, self confidence or determination or commitment, you can never get a sound life. Today, I don’t have money, I don’t have bank balance, I’m earning only Rs 31,000 in Mumbai and facing serious difficulties in my livelihood, but I’m happy because I’m not compromised. I have a lot to learn and I’m learning in Mumbai. I have my parents and they are my assets. I’m confident to speak to Raghunath Sir and Kohli Sir, that’s enough for me! I don’t need to shy away or run away from anything or anywhere. I’m happy.

Q: When and where did you finally get a job?

Ans: DLA, a tabloid newspaper, which is based in Agra, was the first newspaper where I got a chance to work as a sub editor in its Noida Edition in June, 2011. I always remember my DLA days where I learnt so many things from Shri Virendra Sengar and my colleagues.

Q: In retrospect, do you think you should not have taken the initiative and shouted slogans against Barkha? It doesn’t seem to have helped you a bit?

Ans: There’s a quote in English, “I don’t regret what I did but I regret what I didn’t do when I had time”. Same thing with me. I don’t think I should not have taken the initiative, in fact I think I should have taken this initiative more effectively. I have no regrets.

Q: Recently entire media lauded a Zee News reporter when he quit the organization accusing it of bias. Do you think the media will ever laud, or even report fairly, if someone quits an organization like NDTV accusing someone like Barkha?

Ans: I don’t know how to respond this question because I’ve least interest in News Channels’ internal politics.

Q: Has anyone, say your batchmates from IIMC who might be employed at NDTV or any other organization, confided in you about such inherent bias that they can’t talk about or revolt against? You are free not to reveal someone’s name and organization for obvious reasons.

Ans: To be very honest, I came to IIMC for getting a certificate not for learning journalism. IIMC is a good place for learning politics, not journalism. All students, who cracked entrance and interview, are already journalists. I’m still surviving in news industry because I know politics and I would like to extend my deep thanks and gratitude to my IIMC teachers for teaching me politics directly or indirectly. IIMC and NDTV seem to be locked in a relationship and both oblige each other in different ways.

Q: When you see Barkha Dutt supporting free speech and eulogizing someone like Kanhaiya for daring to take on the government, how do you feel?

Ans: Now, I have no time to feel anything. I have a lot many better thing to think and do in life. I search good stories and work on that and try to bring something worth watching for my audience. Barkha Dutt supporting free speech is like a CEO of a tobacco company campaigning for Cancer awareness.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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