India’s ban on an unflattering BBC documentary about Prime Minister Modi sparks resistance and illicit screenings

Days after India blocked a BBC documentary that examines Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s position throughout 2002 anti-Muslim riots and banned folks from sharing it on-line, authorities are scrambling to halt screenings of this system at faculties and universities and prohibit clips of it on social media, a transfer that has been decried by critics as an assault on press freedom.

Tensions escalated within the capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday at Jamia Millia College, the place a scholar group mentioned it deliberate to display screen the banned documentary, prompting dozens of police geared up with tear gasoline and riot gear to assemble outdoors campus gates.

Police, some in plain garments, scuffled with protesting college students and detained not less than half a dozen, who had been taken away in a van.

“That is the time for Indian youth to place up the reality which everyone is aware of. We all know what the prime minister is doing to the society,” mentioned Liya Shareef, 20, a geography scholar and member of the scholar group Fraternity Motion.

Jawaharlal Nehru College within the capital minimize off energy and the web on its campus on Tuesday earlier than the documentary was scheduled to be screened by a college students’ union. Authorities mentioned it could disturb peace on campus, however college students nonetheless watched the documentary on their laptops and cell phones after sharing it on messaging providers reminiscent of Telegram and WhatsApp.

The documentary has brought on a storm at different Indian universities too.

Authorities on the College of Hyderabad, in India’s south, started a probe after a scholar group confirmed the banned documentary earlier this week. Within the southern state of Kerala, staff from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Social gathering held demonstrations on Tuesday after some scholar teams affiliated with rival political events defied the ban and screened this system.

The 2-part documentary “India: The Modi Query” has not been broadcast in India by the BBC, however India’s federal authorities blocked it over the weekend and banned folks from sharing clips on social media, citing emergency powers below its data know-how legal guidelines. Twitter and YouTube complied with the request and eliminated many hyperlinks to the documentary.

The primary a part of this system, launched final week by the BBC for its U.Ok. audiences, revives essentially the most controversial episode of Modi’s political profession when he was the chief minister of western Gujarat state in 2002. It focuses on anti-Muslim riots by which greater than 1,000 folks had been killed.

The riots have lengthy hounded Modi due to allegations that authorities below his watch allowed and even inspired the bloodshed. Modi has denied the accusations, and the Supreme Courtroom has mentioned it discovered no proof to prosecute him. Final yr, the nation’s prime court docket dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim sufferer questioning Modi’s exoneration.

The primary a part of the BBC documentary depends on interviews with victims of the riots, journalists and rights activists, who say Modi seemed the opposite means in the course of the riots. It cites, for the primary time, a secret British diplomatic investigation that concluded Modi was “instantly accountable” for the “local weather of impunity.”

The documentary contains the testimony of then-British Overseas Secretary Jack Straw, who says the British investigation discovered that the violence by Hindu nationalists aimed to “purge Muslims from Hindu areas” and that it had all of the “hallmarks of an ethnic cleaning.”

Suspicions that Modi quietly supported the riots led the U.S., U.Ok. and E.U. to disclaim him a visa, a transfer that has since been reversed.

India’s Overseas Ministry final week known as the documentary a “propaganda piece designed to push a very discredited narrative” that lacks objectivity, and slammed it for “bias” and “a seamless colonial mindset.” Kanchan Gupta, a senior adviser within the authorities’s Ministry of Info and Broadcasting, denounced it as “anti-India rubbish.”

The BBC in a press release mentioned the documentary was “rigorously researched” and concerned a variety of voices and opinions.

“We supplied the Indian Authorities a proper to answer to the issues raised within the sequence — it declined to reply,” the assertion mentioned.

The second a part of the documentary, launched Tuesday within the U.Ok., “examines the observe report of Narendra Modi’s authorities following his re-election in 2019,” in accordance with the movie’s description on the BBC web site.

Lately, India’s Muslim minority has been on the receiving finish of violence from Hindu nationalists, emboldened by a main minister who has principally stayed mum on such assaults since he was first elected in 2014.

The ban has set off a wave of criticism from opposition events and rights teams that slammed it as an assault towards press freedom. It additionally drew extra consideration to the documentary, sparking scores of social media customers to share clips on WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter.

“You’ll be able to ban, you possibly can suppress the press, you possibly can management the establishments … however the fact is the reality. It has a nasty behavior of popping out,” Rahul Gandhi, a frontrunner of the opposition Congress occasion, informed reporters at a information convention Tuesday.

Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress political occasion, on Tuesday tweeted a brand new hyperlink to the documentary after a earlier one was taken down. “Good, unhealthy, or ugly — we resolve. Govt doesn’t inform us what to look at,” Moitra mentioned in her tweet, which was nonetheless up Wednesday morning.

Human Rights Watch mentioned the ban mirrored a broader crackdown on minorities below the Modi authorities, which the rights group mentioned has ceaselessly invoked draconian legal guidelines to muzzle criticism.

Critics say press freedom in India has declined in recent times and the nation fell eight locations, to 150 out of 180 nations, in final yr’s Press Freedom Index printed by Reporters With out Borders. It accuses Modi’s authorities of silencing criticism on social media, notably on Twitter, a cost senior leaders of the governing occasion have denied.

Modi’s authorities has frequently pressured Twitter to prohibit or ban content material it deems essential of the prime minister or his occasion. Final yr, it threatened to arrest Twitter workers within the nation over their refusal to ban accounts run by critics after implementing sweeping new rules for know-how and social media corporations.

The ban on the BBC documentary comes after a proposal from the federal government to offer its Press Info Bureau and different “fact-checking” companies powers to take down information deemed “pretend or false” from digital platforms.

The Editors Guild of India urged the federal government to withdraw the proposal, saying such a change could be akin to censorship.

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