India police detain 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 on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, denying it was propaganda and banning its streaming and sharing on social media.

It followed similar disruptions this week at student gatherings to watch a documentary questioning Modi’s leadership during the bloody riots two decades ago, some of which turned violent, as his opponents raised questions about government censorship.

Modi, who is seeking a third term next year, was chief minister of Gujarat in February 2002 when a suspected Muslim mob torched a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, one of the worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed in independent India.

At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed in the crackdown across the state, with crowds roaming the streets targeting the minority for days. Activists put the number of victims at around 2,500, more than twice that number.

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The BBC’s documentary India: The Modi Challenge, which aired last week, has been labeled a biased “propaganda material” by the government and has banned any clips from it from being shared on social media.

The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) announced on Wednesday that it plans to screen the documentary in every state in India.

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

At Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, 13 students were detained in a heavy police crackdown ahead of one of these demonstrations. The university accused the students of “causing mayhem in the streets” and said it did not have permission to hold the show, police said.

“Anyone who tries to break university rules has no chance of going free,” university vice-chancellor Najma Akhtar told Reuters.

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A day earlier, members of a right-wing group pelted bricks at students hoping to watch a documentary at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, students said.

Ayesha Ghosh, the student leader, said they were watching the documentary on their phones and laptops after the power went out six months before the scheduled screening.

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

“It was the administration that turned off the power,” Ghosh said. “We are calling on campuses across the country to hold screenings as a protest against this censorship.”

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

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

Local media reported that protests also broke out on campuses in the southern state of Kerala on Tuesday after the film was screened, while a show at a university in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh was stopped midway.

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Upper House MP Derek O’Brien tweeted on Saturday that the opposition would “continue to fight the good fight against censorship”, referring to the ban on sharing clips from the documentary on social media. .

The BBC said its documentary series will explore tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority, and examine Modi’s policies on those tensions.

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

It drew on “voices, witnesses and experts” and featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the BBC reported.

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

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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