Friday, January 27, 2023

Defiant Indian students to hold more screenings of BBC documentary on Modi

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Indian students said they would show again a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the government has dismissed as propaganda after a Tuesday campus screening was disrupted by a power cut and intimidation by opponents.

The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) plans to show the documentary, “India: The Modi Question”, in every Indian state, its general secretary told Reuters on Wednesday.

More than a dozen students were detained by police at a New Delhi university on Wednesday ahead of the screening, broadcaster NDTV reported.

Modi’s government has labelled the documentary, which questions his leadership during riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, as a “propaganda piece” and blocked its airing. It has also barred the sharing of any clips on social media in India.

Modi was chief minister of the western state during the violence in which about 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims. Human rights activists put the toll at around 2,500.

“They won’t stop the voice of dissent,” said Mayukh Biswas, general secretary of the SFI, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

A warning was issued by the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi on Tuesday against unapproved student gatherings ahead of SFI’s scheduled screening of the BBC documentary on Wednesday evening, NDTV reported.

Police then detained more than a dozen students there about an hour ahead of the screening, according to the broadcaster.

The Delhi Police did not immediately confirm if students were detained but said there was heavy deployment of police and security forces in riot control gear at the university.

The deployment was “to maintain law and order” both because of the screening and India’s Republic Day on Jan. 26, police said.

The university saw violent clashes in December 2019 between protesters, including students, and the police over a new law that blocks Muslims in countries neighbouring India from gaining citizenship.

On Tuesday, hundreds of students watched the BBC documentary on mobile phones and laptops at the Jawaharlal Nehru University after power was cut in the campus, said student leader Aishe Ghosh.

The university had threatened disciplinary action if the documentary was screened.

“It was obviously the administration that cut off the power,” Ghosh said. “We are encouraging campuses across the country to hold screenings as an act of resistance against this censorship,” Ghosh added.

The media coordinator for the university administration did not comment when asked about the power cut on the campus.

Ghosh said members of a right-wing student group threw bricks at students hoping to watch the documentary, hurting several, and students had complained to police.

A spokesman for the right-wing student group did not respond to a message seeking comment.

A police spokesperson did not immediately respond to queries.

The 2002 Gujarat violence erupted after a suspected Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, setting off one of independent India’s worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed.

At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in reprisal attacks across Gujarat over days when crowds roamed the streets, targeting the minority group.

Critics accuse Modi of failing to protect Muslims. Modi denies the allegations and a Supreme Court-ordered investigation found no evidence to prosecute him. A petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year.

The BBC has said the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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