Left teary-eyed after an onion attack
Onions have been a very important part of Indian history. Governments have fallen here over the price of onions. So last week when our commodities correspondent Rajendra Jadhav suggested a story on the skyrocketing prices of vegetables, onions seemed the natural peg. The idea was to do something simple around the price of a vegetable as it changes from the field to the dinner table. Our destination was the wholesale onion market in Nashik, Maharashtra, one of the highest producers of onions in the country. Nothing had prepared us for what we were about to encounter.
On Monday, prices of onions nose-dived over a ban on exports by the government and the arrival of new stock through imports. Unaware of this, we went to the onion market in Lasalgaon.
Upon reaching the location, both Rajendra and I got busy. I photographed the way onions were being loaded on small tractors. We then moved to the other side of the market where the auction was to take place. But here something unexpected happened – we were greeted by angry farmers who accused us, the media, of pushing prices down; we were the only two there at the time.
Their anger was such, we instantly shelved our plans of taking pictures and started walking back towards our car. But from then on, it all went awry.
The crowd turned hostile and started throwing onions at me. They were yelling and screaming. A stone was hurled at me. I started running towards the car, shouting at my driver to open the door. I got in but my driver was too nervous to stay inside the car. So as luck would have it, a mob surrounded my car and my driver was nowhere to be seen. I tried to stay as calm as I could.
I realized I was the center of attention due to my cameras. People stared hurling stones at the wind shield of the car and shaking the vehicle. They wanted me out. In the meantime, I caught my driver trying to get back in. While I opened the door for him, somebody hit me in the face. Luckily I swung back, avoiding a full blow.
By now, I’d realized Rajendra was not in the crowd, which meant he was safe; he had a local contact who’d accompanied him. While an angry mob blocked our way, my driver finally reversed the car at full throttle. The crowd moved back but didn’t stop pelting stones. In the midst of it all, we sped off.
Having finally contacted Rajendra, we decided to meet on the national highway. As we waited inside the compound of a small medical clinic off the highway, he eventually showed up on a motorbike with his contact.
It was finally time to breathe a sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, news of journalists being attacked at the market had spread like wildfire.