NEW DELHI: Indian students said on Wednesday they would show again a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the government has dismissed as propaganda after a campus screening the previous day 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 said.
Almost 20 students were detained by police at a New Delhi university on Wednesday ahead of the screening.
Narendra 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 Gujarat during the violence in which about 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslim. 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 New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University on Tuesday against unapproved student gatherings ahead of SFI’s scheduled screening of the BBC documentary, NDTV reported.
Police then started detaining students there an hour before the screening, according to the broadcaster. Police did not confirm if students were detained.
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 Dec 2019 between protesters, including students, and police over a new law that blocks Muslims in countries neighbouring India from gaining citizenship.
Hundreds of students watched the BBC documentary on mobile phones and laptops at the Jawaharlal Nehru University after campus power was cut.
The university had threatened disciplinary action if the documentary was screened.
“It was obviously the administration that cut off the power,” Aishe Ghosh, a student, said. 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 police spokesperson did not immediately respond to queries.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023