BBC Documentary Clampdown Continues
REPUBLIC DAY SPECIAL
The clampdown over BBC’s documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to escalate as protests by various student unions continued on Wednesday, January 25.
Various student unions all over the country had given a call to screen the documentary, but were met with harsh resistance from the university administration as well as the police.
In Delhi’ Jamia Millia Islamia, a call was given for the screening of the BBC documentary on Modi’s involvement in Gujarat Pogrom 2002. However, soon after posters were circulated, the Jamia administration tried to stop the screening, asking the students to not screen it inside the campus.
Speaking to The Citizen, Sakhi, a member of Students' Federation of India (SFI), the union which had given the call for the screening, said that they decided to screen the documentary on the lawns of the campus.
“But on Wednesday afternoon few members of the SFI who had organised the screening were detained by the Delhi Police and we still do not know where they have been taken,” Sakhi said.
By late afternoon buzz about the detention had reached all over the campus, and a call of protest was given. However, the campus was immediately surrounded by security forces including Delhi Police, Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Paramilitary forces.
As the students reached the Jamia gate, they were detained. The detained students included members from SFI, National Students' Union of India (NSUI) and some others who were just standing outside the gate.
With the administration asking students to vacate the campus and shutting down the cafe, those staying at hostels are struggling. Sakhi, added that “many students living in hostels are dependent on cafeteria food, but the administration has shut everything down. My admit card, meanwhile, has been stopped by the admin today. This will create problems for me”.
In a notice shared by the Jamia administration on January 24, it said that strict actions will be taken against any student who gathers in the lawn and around the gate without prior permission.
Speaking to The Citizen, Vishnu, a student of Convergence Media, who was standing at the gate after the commotion said that all student movement has been stopped. “The whole campus was emptied and we were not allowed to go in,” he said.
When asked about the documentary he said, “The ban is extreme. I feel people should decide whether the documentary is a propaganda or not. No one has the right to decide other than the people. Stopping it only shows we have no freedom,” he said. The police had used extreme force to detain the media reporting from the venue as well.
The documentary called ‘India: The Modi Question‘ – which directly blames Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots when he helmed the state as its Chief Minister, released and produced by BBC is a two part series.
The first part was released on January 19 and was shared by many on all social media platforms which encouraged debates around the 2002 Gujarat riots, and the role of then CM Narendra Modi during the riots that killed more than millions and displaced many, especially Muslims.
The documentary was banned by the Indian government, thereafter starting a debate on freedom of speech in the country.
The documentary series reportedly reveals ‘never-seen-before’ or ‘restricted’ documents in detail. It looks at the growing tension between the Muslim community and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as Hindu right-wing organisations – Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The documentary holds Modi directly responsible for the riots and states that such large-scale mass murder or in other words, a pogrom, was not possible without steady help from the state.
The Modi government was quick to respond, calling the documentary propaganda material ‘designed to push a particular discredited narrative.’ The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “The documentary is a reflection on the agency that has made it. We think it is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, lack of objectivity, and continuing colonial mindset are blatantly visible. Can’t dignify such a film.”
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting used emergency powers stating the documentary is based on a ‘colonial mindset’.
However, when the call was given to screen the documentary at various universities, it was stopped. On Tuesday Jawaharlal University Students Union (JNUSU) had called for a screening, which was stopped by the administration.
“The campus lights were shut off and the internet cut off. While there have been government sources saying it was banned. There was nothing concrete so we decided to screen the documentary,” JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh told The Citizen.
She said that when the administration cut the internet and lights, they decided to sit in their office and watch it on their phones and films. “However, we were attacked by the members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). They threw stones at us and beat up students, injuring a few,” she alleged.
The JNU administration, meanwhile, had taken out a notice banning the screening of the documentary.
This action comes after the film ‘The Kashmir Files’, which many critics say manipulated facts about the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, was screened three days ago. “The government has said that the documentary can incite any form of violence but they have not given any concrete reason for saying this. If the film is about the Prime Minister of India, it is not necessarily anti-India. This is just the government’s way of stopping our right to express,” she said.
With the help of Rule 16 of the IT Rules, 2021 — formally known as the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 — notified on February 25, 2021, describes the government’s power with regard to “Blocking of information in case of emergency”.
The ban has received a lot of criticism from the social and political experts of the country who say it is the right of the people to decide what they think of the documentary.
In another similar case, Hyderabad University students’ fraternity, which screened the documentary three days back, have received notices from the administration, The Citizen has learnt.
Shakti, a member of Students Fraternity at Hyderabad University said that at the time of the screening there were no rumours of it being banned. “We screened the documentary at the place where Rohith Vermula movement started. So, it was a symbol. There were no discussions or debate prior to the screening and everything was peaceful,” he told The Citizen.
Around 200 students turned up to watch the documentary. However, Shakti alleged that three days after the screening ABVP members filed a complaint against them at the police station as well as with the administration, after which notices were sent.
“This is a question of censorship. There should not be any kind of censorship in a free democracy. It was left with the students to decide what they want to think about the documentary. When the documentary has a BJP MP has given an interview, which means the government has also given a narrative,” he added.
The documentary was screened in various places, including colleges, in Kerala on Tuesday. The BJP’s youth wing went up in arms in protest against the screenings.
In Thiruvananthapuram, the Youth Congress organised a screening at Manaveeyam Veedhi, a cultural space on Tuesday. The Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) held one at Poojappura Maidan.
Not just Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s financial capital Kochi saw many screenings. The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) conducted screenings for students of the Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kalady Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Maharaja’s College Ernakulam, and Government Law College.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary V Govindan came out in support of the screening saying, “Banning the documentary is an undemocratic stand. Ideals should not be banned in a democratic society.”
The second part that released on Wednesday covers communal tensions in the country, which includes lynching, Abrogation of Article 370 and the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch..