West News Wire: In response to the broadcast of a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suspected involvement in the deadly Gujarat sectarian riots in 2002, police in the Indian city of New Delhi have detained numerous students.
After student organizations affiliated with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protested the screening, police descended on Delhi University, confiscating laptops and forbidding gatherings of more than four persons.
24 students were held, according to police officer Sagar Singh Kalsi, who spoke with the Indian news outlet NDTV.
The federal government utilized its emergency powers earlier this week to prevent the documentary’s airing and forbid its dissemination on social media. Many links to the documentary were removed by Twitter and YouTube after they responded with the request.
Students at Delhi University and at numerous campuses across India gathered to watch the documentary on laptops and phones, defying government efforts to stop the film’s streaming.
The two-part film says Modi had ordered police to turn a blind eye to deadly riots while he was chief minister of Gujarat state.
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 that incident.
About 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the unrest that followed.
The documentary quoted a previously classified British foreign ministry report which said the violence was “politically motivated” and the aim “was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”.
The report also claims that the riots were impossible “without the climate of impunity”, created by Modi’s administration.
Defiant students have staged broadcasts on several campuses around the country.
On Wednesday, tensions over the issue flared in New Delhi, where a student group at Jamia Millia Islamia university said it planned to screen the banned documentary, prompting dozens of police equipped with tear gas and riot gear to gather outside the campus gates.
Police, some in plain clothes, scuffled with protesting students and detained at least half a dozen of them.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University authorities in the capital cut off power and internet on the campus on Tuesday before the documentary was scheduled to be screened by a students’ union.
Authorities said it would disturb the peace on campus, but students nonetheless watched the documentary on their laptops and mobile phones after sharing it on messaging services such as Telegram and WhatsApp.
At the University of Hyderabad, in India’s south, an inquiry was launched after a student group showed the banned documentary earlier this week.
In the southern state of Kerala, BJP workers held demonstrations after some student groups affiliated with rival political parties defied the ban and screened the film.
Modi ran Gujarat from 2001 until his election as prime minister in 2014 and briefly faced a travel ban by the United States over the violence in 2002.
An investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court of India to investigate the role of Modi and others in the riots said in 2012 it did not find any evidence to prosecute him.
The government’s ban on the documentary has set off a wave of criticism from opposition parties and rights groups that slammed it as an attack against press freedom. It also drew more attention to the documentary, sparking scores of social media users to share clips on WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter.
In recent years, press freedom in India has deteriorated. In the Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders last year, the nation dropped eight spots to rank 150 out of 180 nations. It charges that the Modi administration silences online criticism, especially on Twitter.
Human Rights Watch claimed that the documentary’s prohibition is part of a larger campaign against minorities being carried out by the Modi administration, which the rights organization claimed often uses harsh legislation to stifle dissent.
“The truth is the truth. You can outlaw things, stifle the press, and control institutions. Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party, told reporters, “It has a nasty habit of coming out.”