CNN-News18’s Radhika Ramaswamy on being a woman journalist at SabarimalaDevika Chitnis
Sabarimala temple will reopen its gates for a day on November 5. The Sabarimala Karma Samiti - a group leading the protests against women entering the temple - has written an open letter to the editors of media organisations asking them not to send women journalists. We spoke to CNN-News18’s Radhika Ramaswamy, who reported on the Sabarimala Temple a few weeks ago. She says, “We thought we were dead meat when an unbelievably violent crowd of a hundred protestors surrounded our car.”
Radhika Ramaswamy from Kerala is a reporter at CNN-News 18 Mumbai bureau office in Lower Parel. You must have come across her recently covering the Kerala floods for the channel or reporting most of the stories from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. After the Supreme Court’s verdict on Sabarimala, she seemed to be the obvious choice to cover the story from the region. She, like most of the journalists there, was given instructions not to enter the temple.
“We were on our way to Pamba from Nilakkal, an area near the Sabarimala temple,” she tells YourStory. “We were three people in the car. Our driver, cameraman and I. Suddenly, a bunch of protestors stopped us and asked us where we were going. I explained we were from the media and they told us women reporters can’t go. Then, I told them politely, in Malayalam, and said ‘kodivi kourt’ (the court has allowed us to go) and that’s when they got violent. It was harrowing,” she recalls.
A hundred protestors surrounded the car and the crew was enveloped in abuses and violence. The protestors banged the car doors, cracked the side mirrors and the windshield and took the car wiper to hit the driver. They asked Radhika to step out of the car. “I knew if I stepped out, I won’t be spared and we would be dead meat. So, I stayed in. They threw a water bottle at my chest, it really hurt,” she says.
Our cameraman shot a video that was circulated on social media and TV channels. “That was only 20 percent of how violent things were,” says Radhika. “They started chanting the Ayyappa slogan in protest. There were a couple of policemen who told us to 'just leave. As we reversed the car to leave, they were following us, lynching us till we got out of the stretch. They were definitely not just plain devotees. It was politically motivated. It has to be some right-wing fringe group,” she says.
The story didn’t end there. “Wherever we went, the protestors would recognise the car and hurl verbal abuses at us. They hooted and booed us till we got out of Nilakkal.” Radhika and the crew went and filed an FIR against the protestors and the police readily wrote it down. But, one could sense that even the police were taken by surprise by the number of protestors. “Nobody had anticipated the magnitude of violence. Yes, everyone was aware that there may be protests, but the hatred and anger was unprecedented,” says Radhika.
Today, the Sabarimala temple will reopen for a day. The Sabarimala Karma Samiti, the opposition group against the Supreme Court verdict,, has said in its open letter that sending women journalists will 'aggravate’ the issue, even if the journalists are doing their jobs.
At the moment, Radhika Ramaswamy hasn't been assigned to go to Sabarimala on November 5.. When asked if it was the organisation’s decision, she said, she doesn't know. “I’m based in Mumbai at the moment and it doesn't seem likely that the organisation will send me to report for a day’s opening at Sabarimala.”