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India Bans BBC Modi Documentary as Press Freedoms Erode

India deploys riot police to enforce its ban on the BBC documentary implicating Narendra Modi in the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002.

india bbc modi documentary ban censorship
India has used emergency powers to ban the airing or sharing of a BBC documentary that highlights Prime Minister Narendra Modi's role in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat.

The Indian government has used emergency powers to ban a BBC documentary series implicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat pogroms.

More than a thousand people, mainly Muslims, were killed in the violence. At the time, Modi served as chief minister of the Gujarat state. The documentary makes public for the first time a British government inquiry that assessed Modi was “directly responsible” for the massacres. For many years, Modi was barred from entry into the United Kingdom and the United States as a result of his role in the pogroms.

New Delhi has barred clips of the documentary, “India: The Modi Question,” from being shared on social media. Riot police have been deployed to prevent the program to be screened at universities.

Derek O’Brien, a senior official in the opposition Trinamool Congress party, posted screenshots on Saturday indicating that his tweet sharing clips of the documentary “has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.” The BBC, citing sources at Twitter, reports that the social media company has withheld in India at least 50 tweets related to the documentary, complying with New Delhi’s demands.

On Tuesday, administrators at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) cut off electricity to the student union office to prevent the documentary from being aired there. The JNU, India’s premier liberal arts university, has long been targeted by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideologues, who, under Modi, have seized control of its administration. In 2020, students and teachers were attacked by the student wing of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Today, dozens of students at Jamia Millia Islamia — a historically Muslim college — were arrested and riot police were deployed as leftist students sought to screen the BBC Modi documentary.

The Indian government and its Hindu nationalist supporters in the media and society have erupted in anger over the Modi documentary. In a Twitter thread, Kanchan Gupta, a senior advisor to India’s ministry of information and broadcasting, called the program “anti-India garbage” and claimed that it was “undermining the sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Hundreds of ex-Indian civil servants signed an open letter calling the BBC documentary “imperialism.” The list of signatories — almost entirely Hindu — reflects how the right-wing Modi, once regarded at the national level as an extremist, has become mainstreamed among India’s majority community.

India, often hailed as the world’s largest democracy, leads the world in internet shutdowns. India and the Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir region accounted for 34 new internet restrictions in 2022, according to Surfshark, representing over 40 percent of the global total.

In 2021, India led the world in internet shutdowns for the fourth consecutive year, according to Access Now.

Press freedoms have also fast-eroded under Modi. India’s has dropped from 133 in 2016 to 150 in 2022 in the Reporters Without Borders annual press freedom rankings.

At least seven journalists are behind bars in India, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The imprisoned journalists are disproportionately Indian or Kashmiri Muslims.

Written By

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine. He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.

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