Indian police arrest students gathered to watch BBC documentary on Modi

NEW DELHI, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Students were detained by Delhi police on Wednesday as they gathered to watch a recent BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India has branded as propaganda and blocked its distribution and sharing on social networks.

It follows similar disruptions, some of which turned violent, at gatherings this week of students to watch the documentary which challenges Modi’s leadership during deadly riots two decades ago as his opponents raise questions about government censorship.

Modi, who is seeking a third term in elections next year, was chief minister of Gujarat in February 2002 when a suspected Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, sparking one of the worst outbursts of religious blood from independent India.

In retaliatory attacks across the state, at least 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims, as mobs roamed the streets for days, targeting the minority group. Activists put the toll at around 2,500, more than double that number.

The government said the BBC documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’ released last week is a biased ‘piece of propaganda’ and has blocked any clips from being shared on social media.

The Student Federation of India (SFI) said on Wednesday that it plans to show the documentary in all Indian states.

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

Ahead of one such screening at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, 13 students were arrested amid a heavy police deployment. The university accused the students of creating a “ruckus in the street” and said they did not have permission to stage the show, police said.

“There is no chance that anyone trying to disrupt the discipline of the university will be released,” the university’s vice-chancellor, Najma Akhtar, told Reuters.

A day earlier, bricks were thrown, allegedly by members of a right-wing group, at students hoping to watch the documentary at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, students said.

Student leader Aishe Ghosh said they were watching the documentary on their phones and laptops after the electricity went out about half an hour before a scheduled screening.

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

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

The university’s media coordinator did not comment when asked about the power outage on campus.

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

Protests also erupted after the film was screened on campuses in the southern state of Kerala on Tuesday, while a show was canceled halfway through at a university in the city of Chandigarh, in the northern India, according to local media.

Derek O’Brien, MP in the upper house of parliament, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the opposition “will continue to fight the good fight against censorship” in reference to the blocking of the sharing of excerpts from the documentary on social networks. .

The BBC said its documentary series examines the tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores Modi’s politics in relation to those tensions.

“The documentary has been rigorously researched to the highest editorial standards,” the BBC said.

He approached “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts” and presented a range of opinions, including responses from members of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, the BBC said.

Reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi and Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; additional reporting by Krishn Kaushik; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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