Indian police arrest students for screening Modi documentary Al

Indian police arrest students for screening Modi documentary

Police have arrested scores of students in the Indian capital New Delhi over the screening of a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role during Gujarat’s deadly sectarian riots in 2002.

Police swarmed from Delhi University after student groups supporting Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) objected to the screening, confiscating laptops and banning gatherings of more than four people.

Police officer Sagar Singh Kalsi told Indian news channel NDTV that 24 students were arrested.

Earlier this week, the federal government used emergency powers to block the documentary’s broadcast and banned its distribution on social media. Twitter and YouTube complied and removed many links to the documentation.

Students at Delhi University and numerous universities across India rallied to watch the documentary on laptops and phones, defying government efforts to halt the film’s streaming.

Police and security from Delhi University escort a protesting student outStudents at Delhi University have been arrested for showing the BBC documentary [Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

The two-part film says Modi ordered police to turn a blind eye to deadly riots while he was Gujarat state premier.

The violence began after 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a fire on a train. Thirty-one Muslims were convicted of criminal conspiracy and murder over this incident.

About 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the riots that followed.

The documentary cited a previously classified UK Foreign Office report, which said the violence was “politically motivated” and the aim “is to cleanse Muslims from Hindu areas”.

The report also claims that the riots were impossible “without the climate of impunity created by the Modi government.”

Defy government rules

Unruly students have hosted broadcasts at several universities across the country.

Tensions flared over the issue in New Delhi on Wednesday, where a student group from Jamia Millia Islamia University said it plans to screen the banned documentary, prompting dozens of police officers equipped with tear gas and riot gear to gather outside the campus gates gather.

Police, some in plain clothes, tussled with protesting students and arrested at least half a dozen of them.

Authorities at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the capital on Tuesday cut off power and internet on campus before the documentary was due to be screened by a student union.

Authorities said it would disturb peace on campus, but students still watched the documentary on their laptops and cellphones after sharing it through messaging services like Telegram and WhatsApp.

An investigation has been launched at the University of Hyderabad in southern India after a student group screened the banned documentary earlier this week.

In the southern state of Kerala, BJP workers demonstrated after some student groups linked to rival political parties defied the ban and screened the film.

decline in press freedom

Modi ruled Gujarat from 2001 until his election as prime minister in 2014 and briefly faced a United States travel ban over the 2002 violence.

An investigative team appointed by India’s Supreme Court to probe the role of Modi and others in the riots said in 2012 it had found no evidence to prosecute him.

The government’s ban on the documentary has sparked a wave of criticism from opposition parties and rights groups, who have criticized it as an attack on press freedom. It also drew more attention to the documentary, prompting numerous social media users to share clips on WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter.

Press freedom in India has declined in recent years. In last year’s Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, the country fell eight places to 150th out of 180 countries. She accuses Modi’s government of silencing criticism on social media, particularly Twitter.

Human Rights Watch said the ban on the documentary reflects a broader crackdown on minorities under the Modi government, which the human rights group said has often invoked draconian laws to silence criticism.

“You can ban, you can suppress the press, you can control the institutions, but the truth is the truth. It has a nasty habit of coming out,” Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress Party, told reporters.