India students watch BBC film on Modi despite power cut

JNU students blame university for power outage after officials said screening of documentary might ‘disturb peace and harmony’ on campus.

Modi was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when more than 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims [File: Pankaj Nangia/AP]

A top Indian university cut off power and internet supply on campus before a screening by its students’ union of a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India has dismissed as propaganda, broadcaster NDTV reported.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the capital New Delhi had threatened disciplinary action if the documentary was screened, saying the move might “disturb peace and harmony” on campus.

Modi’s government has ridiculed the documentary, which questioned his leadership during deadly riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, as “propaganda”, blocked its airing and also barred sharing of any clips via social media in the country.

Modi was chief minister of Gujarat during the violence in which more than 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims, according to rights groups. He ran the western state from 2001 until his election as prime minister in 2014 and briefly faced a travel ban by the United States over the riots.

The JNU students’ union long seen as a bastion of left-wing politics, said on Twitter it would screen the documentary, India: The Modi Question, at its office at 9pm (15:30 GMT) on Tuesday.

A person present with students inside campus said the documentary was now being watched on mobile phones through links shared over Telegram and Vimeo after the power went out.

“There are about 300 people streaming the documentary now on campus on their phones since the power went out about half an hour before the screening,” the person, who did not wish to be identified, told Reuters.

Footage from inside the campus showed some students huddled together and watching the film on a laptop propped up on a chair. Other students said they were pelted with rocks as they watched the documentary.

The JNU media coordinator did not comment when asked about reports of an internet outage and a power cut inside the campus. A source in the administration said a fault in the power line caused outages in faculty residences and other facilities and the issue was being looked into.

The university administration earlier said on its website it had not given permission for the documentary to be shown.

“The concerned students/individuals are firmly advised to cancel the proposed programme immediately failing which a strict disciplinary action may be initiated as per the university rules,” the university said.

President of the JNU students’ union, Aishe Ghosh, invited students on Twitter to the screening of the documentary that has been “‘banned’ by an ‘elected government’ of the largest ‘democracy'”.

Speaking to NDTV, Ghosh said the university administration was responsible for the blackout.

“The administration has cut the internet and power in order to stifle the voice of democracy,” she said. “However, we will not stop and watch the documentary with the help of mobile phones using QR codes.”

The documentary was also screened at some campuses in the Communist-run southern state of Kerala, The Hindu newspaper reported.

India’s home ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the government’s plans if the film were to be shown at JNU and in Kerala.

The violence in Gujarat erupted in late February 2002 after a train carrying many Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 59.

Hindu mobs later rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods across the state, killing and raping dozens of women, in one of the worst religious massacres in India’s history.

The two-part BBC documentary cited a previously classified British foreign ministry report quoting unnamed sources saying that Modi met senior police officers and “ordered them not to intervene” in the attacks on Muslims.

It also said the violence was “politically motivated” and the aim “was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”.

The riots were impossible “without the climate of impunity created by the state government … Narendra Modi is directly responsible,” it concluded.

Modi has repeatedly denied accusations that he did not do enough to stop the riots and was exonerated in 2012 following an inquiry overseen by the Supreme Court. Another petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year.

The BBC said last week that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a “wide range” of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The documentary is also scheduled to be screened on Tuesday at various campuses in the southern state of Kerala, currently governed by a communist party opposed to the BJP.

Modi’s government has been accused of stifling dissent by free-speech activists and opposition leaders for years.

On Saturday, it used emergency powers under India’s controversial information technology laws to block the documentary from being shared on social media.

The order “flagrantly contradicts the country’s stated commitment to democratic ideals”, Beh Lih Yi of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies