The man who made a policeman – and a smashed typewriter – go viral

September 23, 2015

Ashutosh Tripathi was having breakfast at a Lucknow eatery when he spotted a policeman threatening vendors and workers outside a city post office. The photojournalist took out his camera and started clicking as the policeman smashed the typewriter of an elderly man.

Photos of Saturday’s incident went viral on the Internet, prompting outrage and calls for the policeman’s suspension. Akhilesh Yadav, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, took note and got local police to replace the broken machine, helping the old man earn a living as a typist.

Reuters spoke to Tripathi, 27, about the images that made him a sort of celebrity on Facebook. Here are edited excerpts:

Q: What happened that day?
A: It was a coincidence. I had stopped near the GPO (general post office) for breakfast at a nearby eatery. I saw a policeman riding a motorbike on the bicycle track, which is a violation of traffic rules. I thought I should click this. While I was setting up the camera, I saw him kicking the milk container of a tea vendor, who was sitting with typist Krishna Kumar on the pavement.

Q: Then he headed towards the typist…
A: Yes, he asked everyone plying their trade on the footpath to leave. The others did so, but the typist was an old man andblog1 very slow. The policeman kicked his typewriter aside. Kumar, with folded hands, requested him to spare his machine but he didn’t stop. The policeman abused him and smashed his typewriter on the road.

Q: Didn’t he object to your clicking his photos?
A: When he noticed I was clicking his pictures, he asked me to delete them. When I asked him how he could do this to an old man, he said, “do your job, and don’t teach us ours.” He wasn’t scared, he was sure nothing would happen to him – telling me to click away and show the photos to everyone.

Q: In such situations, it is not clear whether a photojournalist should intervene or just click photos. What were you going through at the time?
A: Clicking the photos was more important because otherwise people wouldn’t get to know about police brutality. The Uttar Pradesh government wants to project Lucknow Police as ‘mitra’ (friend), but the reality is something else. This should come out.

I walked up to the typist and tried to comfort him. He told me the machine was like his child and the only way he could earn a living. He started sobbing and said it could not be repaired.

blog 2Q: The photos went viral on social media. Did you expect this?
A: I wrote the story for the newspaper where I work (Dainik Bhaskar), but you cannot put your emotions in a news report. I decided to share it on Facebook. When I logged in later, it had been shared over a thousand times. I thought something was wrong. Five minutes later, it had 1,500 shares. When I posted the photos, I was hoping someone might take note and get the typewriter repaired. I never expected such a reaction.

Within a couple of hours, I received a message on WhatsApp that the policeman has been suspended. Later, the chief minister offered financial assistance for Kumar. My brother had tweeted the photos on Twitter. It was then tweeted by various celebrities also.

Q: Some people said this was real journalism. How did you feel?
A: I wanted to join the army but my parents did not allow it. I came to journalism in 2011, and started regretting it. I used to tell myself I am in the worst profession. Your seniors won’t help you and you won’t get a job without connections. People are working for as low as 2,000 rupees ($30) per month. Some of my seniors kept motivating me and said someday you will feel good about your job. This was one such day. This is the reason why the media is called the fourth pillar of democracy.

Q: So are you happy with your job now?
A: Personal satisfaction is temporary, and I would say journalism is still one of the world’s ineffective professions. People don’t support each other. We talk about rights and equality in our articles. Then why is a scribe paid something like 2,000 rupees ($30) a month? I think we need to be united and support each other wherever there is exploitation.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; follow Amit on Twitter @leosamit, and Tony @tonytharakanThis article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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