homepolitics NewsBBC Documentary on Modi: JNU screening halted after stone pelting, power cuts | Top developments

BBC Documentary on Modi: JNU screening halted after stone pelting, power cuts | Top developments

BBC Documentary on Modi: JNU screening halted after stone pelting, power cuts | Top developments
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By CNBCTV18.com Jan 25, 2023 9:39:04 AM IST (Updated)

Despite the ban, students at the Hyderabad Central University also managed to organise a screening of the documentary on Monday.

Despite India having blocked its airing, controversies surrounding the the BBC's new documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots and its portrayal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi refuse to die down. The government has invoked emergency powers under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, to remove clips and links to the documentary that have been shared on various social media platforms and other intermediary websites.

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The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Ministry of External Affairs have lambasted the "India: The Modi Question" documentary, calling it a propaganda piece. The BBC has not cleared the two-part docuseries to be broadcast in India, but clips and videos posted online on YouTube channels have been removed.
Here are some of the latest developments from the issues surrounding the documentary:
JNU Student Union screening halted after students claim they were pelted by stones
A screening of the documentary was planned by the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) for 9 pm on Tuesday. Students, however, led a protest outside a Vasant Kunj police station after stones were allegedly pelted at them.
"We filed a complaint, and police assured us they'll be immediately looking into the incident," the president of the student union told reporters last night. "As of now, we're calling of the protest. We'll also file a complaint at JNU Proctor office."
There were also claims that the varsity administration cut power and internet to stop the event, making students watch the documentary on their phones instead.
Some students alleged that the attackers were members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a charge the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated student body denied.
"Do these people hurling allegations have any evidence that we pelted stones? We did not pelt stones at all," Gaurav Kumar, a JNU student from ABVP outfit told ANI.
The student outfit had allegedly shared posters which detailed plans for a screening on January 24 within campus premises.
Students interviewed by News18 on the JNU campus said they were curious about the documentary's content and why it was blocked by the government.
"We cannot criticise or analyse without watching it," a student said. "That's why I really want to watch it."
Despite the university administration warning against it as it may “disturb peace and harmony,” the student group had planned on going ahead with the screening. The university said that it “firmly advised” against screening the documentary failing which it would take “strict disciplinary action.”
Hyderabad Central University organises screening
Students at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) managed to organise a screening of the documentary on Monday. More than 50 students from the Student Islamic Organisation (SIO) and Muslim Student Federation were present at the screening.
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) leaders demanded action against the organisers saying the screening happened without permission.
“We have received the information that some students organised screening inside the campus but haven't received any written complaint. If we receive a complaint, an investigation will be taken up,” local police told ANI.
Kerala: BJP seeks CM intervention after political parties announce screening
Despite the ban, various political groups in Kerala on Tuesday announced they would screen the controversial documentary, prompting the BJP to urge Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to intervene and put a stop to such endeavours.
These are the parties in the state that have announced screenings so far:
• Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) Kerala — CPI(M)'s youth wing
• Students' Federation of India (SFI) —  a left-wing student organisation allied with the CPI(M)
• INC state unit Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), whose Youth Congress wing leader Shafi Parambil said they would screen the documentary in all district headquarters on Republic Day
A screening was held at a law college in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday despite the Centre's notification, News18 reported.
Foreign reactions
When asked about the documentary, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday stated that he was not aware of the documentary in question but praised India as a “thriving and vibrant” democracy. He said he could not comment on "domestic politics."
“What I will say broadly is that there are a number of elements that undergird the global strategic partnership that we have with our Indian partners. There are close political ties. There are economic ties. There are exceptionally deep people-to-people ties between the US and India,” he added.
Earlier this month, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had defended his Indian counterpart when asked by the opposition about the documentary's claim that "Modi was directly responsible." Sunak said he did not agree with the characterisation of the prime minister.
“The UK government's position on that is clear and long-standing, and it has not changed. Of course, we do not tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure that I agree at all with the characterisation that the hon. gentleman has put forward,” the British prime minister had said.
Lawmakers react to the documentary
Union Minister of Law Kiren Rijiju jumped to defend Modi on Tuesday and attacked supporters of the documentary for whom "the white rulers are still the masters."
Rijiju had tweeted on Sunday that some people haven't gotten over "colonial intoxication" and consider the BBC above the Supreme Court of India.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi called the series a "propaganda piece" and accused it of pushing a "discredited narrative."
“The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible,” he said.
The opposition, however, has taken to social media to show its support for the documentary. In a press briefing on Tuesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that the "truth shines bright."
"It has a nasty habit of coming out. So no amount of banning, oppression and frightening people is going to stop the truth from coming out," he said.
Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra has also been vocal about the controversy on Twitter and has shared unofficial links to the documentary several times. Most recently, she tweeted a Telegram link to an audio file of the first episode.
While her previous tweets are still "untouched," the links have been removed and are no longer available.
About the UK Foreign Office report
The BBC documentary uses a report from the UK Foreign Office to make most of its claims. The report was part of an inquiry ordered by the former UK Foreign Secretary, equivalent to India’s Minister of External Affairs, into the 2002 riots. The documentary quotes the unpublished report to say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” which allowed the violence to spread.
The report stated that the “aim of riots was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas” through a “systematic campaign of violence” including “widespread and systematic rape of Muslim women”, the Independent quoted the documentary.
In India, Modi, along with other political leaders, has been repeatedly cleared by the courts. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was appointed by the Supreme Court to probe the allegations into the riots cited “no prosecutable evidence” against PM Modi in its report. The Supreme Court also upheld the SIT judgement last year, dismissing a petition challenging it.
Modi was chief minister of Gujarat when the riots broke out in February 2002.
What are the legal implications of holding a screening?
The documentary is not yet banned in India. The Indian government has so far just blocked the content from being shared on social media platforms as well as other websites like YouTube. However, screening the documentary can still have plenty of negative legal implications.
As the documentary has not been cleared for release in India by the BBC, those who screen the documentary can be under the hook for copyright infringement, which itself can lead to a jail term of between six months to three years.
Additionally, they may also be liable under the offence of piracy under sections 63 and 65 A of the Copyright Act, which carries their own jail terms.
Due to the objectionable material present in the documentary, those who had shared the documentary even electronically could be prosecuted under section 66A of the Information Technology Act. However, the Supreme Court struck down the act last year stating that citizens should not be prosecuted for that act.
India’s rules on defamation could also be applicable to those screening the documentary which can attract a jail term of up to two years and a fine. 
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