Hyderabad: When history was being scripted on December 6, 1992, at Ayodhya with frenzied karsewaks pulling down the disputed structure, the country stood transfixed as the news trickled in. For one press photographer from Hyderabad, however, it was work as usual. He was on a clicking spree. Having travelled to Ayodhya two days in advance, freelance photographer D Ravindar Reddy’s hopes of getting some good pictures were quite high. And he did get some of the best photos of the incident that were published by international magazine Time, India Today and other magazines in India.
More than the possibility of getting some good pictures of something happening, it was an opportunity for him to watch world-renowned photographers compose the photos when something was happening, Reddy reminisces, 27 years after the historic event that left an indelible mark on the social fabric and the collective psyche of India.
“Raghu Rai was to come to Ayodhya for sure and it was an opportunity to study how he shoots. He did come and I trailed him,” Reddy guffaws. He wasn’t exactly a rookie photographer but was still in learning mode and was enthralled by Rai’s work.
What was supposed to be a learning mission, which could possibly fetch some good photos, turned out to be a landmark in the professional life of Ravindar Reddy. He managed to shoot photos of the saffron clad karsewaks, particularly the electrifying surge of emotion of the swelling crowds a the structure was pulled down. The moment was turning out to be dangerous for photographers. Anyone seen with a camera was being attacked.
“They were carrying heavy equipment. I had two cameras. One a Canon AE-1 Program and the other a Canon AI with a 28 mm wide and a 50 mm fixed lenses”.
Reddy recalls the situation turned electric as leaders like Sadhvi Ritambara, Uma Bharti and Lal Krishna Advani began to speak.
“Sadhvi Ritambara’s speech was fiery. I could see Raghu Rai giving instructions to his son Nitin Rai on composing the photos. The crowd turned restive. In a jiffy, the barricades were down and people jostled with policemen. By the time we realised what was happening, karsewaks were rushing to the structure,” the memories are still fresh in Reddy’s mind.
With the crowd surging ahead and belligerence increasing by the minute, all photographers rushed to a building as the crowd began raining blows on them. They thought they could shoot from the terrace. “I received a couple of blows and ran in the opposite direction and went towards the backside of the disputed structure. My camera was not noticeable and I had a saffron flag tied around my neck,” Reddy recalls vividly. He shot some photos and it was increasingly becoming clear that it was too dangerous to visibly carry the camera. He took out the three film rolls he shot and ran for his life.
“I hid the film rolls in my socks and ran to the railway station after collecting my belongings. I took a train to Varanasi and then reached Delhi the next morning. I went straight to the India Today office and then to the Time office in PTI building,” Reddy says, recalling how the Time South Asia bureau chief declined to take any photograph saying his photographer was stationed in Ayodhya. But hours later, he realised that the staffer could not shoot photos because of the volatile situation. “Next day, I got a call from Time saying they were using my photograph.”
Not only Time, but India Today and The Week too used Reddy’s photos catapulting him into fame among news photographers of the country. And now this Hyderabadi photographer runs Ravi Photostudio in Somajiguda.