NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Delhi police detained students on Wednesday as they gathered to watch a recent BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India called propaganda and banned from broadcasting and sharing on social media.
It follows similar unrest, some of which turned violent, at student gatherings this week to watch the documentary questioning Modi’s leadership during deadly riots two decades ago, as his opponents raised questions about government oversight.
Modi, who is aiming to win a third term in elections next year, was chief minister of Gujarat in February 2002 when suspected Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, sparking one of the worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed in India.
In reprisal attacks across the state, at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed as crowds roamed the streets for days, targeting the minority. Activists put the death toll at about 2,500, more than double that figure.
Modi denied accusations that he had not done enough to stop the riots, and was acquitted in 2012 after a Supreme Court-supervised investigation. A petition questioning his acquittal last year was denied.
The government has said the BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question” broadcast last week is a biased “propaganda article” and has banned any clips from it from being shared on social media.
Students Federation of India (SFI) said on Wednesday that it plans to screen the documentary in every Indian state.
They will not stop the voice of dissent,” said Mukh Biswas, general secretary of SFI, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Ahead of one of those performances at Jamia Islamia University in Delhi, 13 students were arrested amid a heavy police presence. Police said the university blamed the students for creating a “street commotion” and said they did not have permission to stage the parade.
“There is no chance that anyone trying to disturb the university system will go free,” Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhtar told Reuters.
Students said that a day earlier, members of a right-wing group had thrown stones at students hoping to watch the documentary at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
Student leader Ayesha Ghosh said they were watching the documentary on their phones and laptops after the power went out about half an hour before the scheduled show.
The university refused permission and threatened disciplinary action if the documentary was shown.
“It is clear that the administration has cut off the electricity,” Ghosh said. “We encourage universities across the country to conduct the 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 spokesman for the right-wing student group did not respond to a message seeking comment. A police spokesman did not respond to inquiries.
Protests also erupted following the film’s screening at a university campus in the southern state of Kerala on Tuesday, while a halfway screening at a university in the northern city of Chandigarh was canceled, according to local media reports.
Derek O’Brien, a member of parliament in the Senate, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the opposition will “continue the good fight against censorship,” referring to the ban on sharing clips from the documentary on social media.
The BBC said its series of documentaries examines tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores Modi’s policies in relation to these tensions.
“The documentary has been meticulously researched to the highest standards of editing,” the BBC said.
The BBC said it had approached “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts” and offered a range of opinions, including responses from people in Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
(Reporting by Shivam Patil in New Delhi and Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai). Additional reporting by Krishn Kaushik. Editing by Robert Purcell, Jonathan Otis, and Daniel Wallis
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