watch no evil

The Indian government is trying to block people from watching a BBC documentary about Modi

Attempts to make "India: The Modi Question" unavailable online is making people want to watch it more
Turning a blind eye.
Turning a blind eye.
Photo: Sean Gallup (Getty Images)
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The Indian government is trying its best to stop internet users in the country from viewing a new BBC documentary.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has reportedly issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the BBC’s new two-part film, India: The Modi Question, which chronicles Narendra Modi’s involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“Videos sharing @BBCWorld hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as ‘documentary’, on @YouTube and tweets sharing links to the BBC documentary have been blocked under India’s sovereign laws and rules,” Kanchan Gupta, senior adviser at MIB, tweeted on Jan. 21—four days after the first part released on TV in the UK. The second aired there yesterday (Jan. 24).

While government officials dismiss it as propaganda, activists, lawyers, and members of rival parties keep trying to find new links to share it.

Meanwhile, the BBC stood behind the documentary, describing it as “rigorously researched according to the highest editorial standards” and involved a “wide range” of voices and opinions, including responses from people working for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The UK broadcaster says it reached out to the Indian government for comment, but authorities refused to reply.

BBC reminds 2023 India of 2002 Modi

The 2002 Gujarat riots refer to three days of inter-communal violence in the western Indian state, sparked by the burning of an express train. Modi, currently the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, was chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, and has often been accused of deliberately not stopping violence against Muslims. In 2012, India’s Supreme Court found no evidence of Modi’s involvement in the massacre and exonerated him.

However, in the BBC’s fresh retelling of the event and its aftermath, the evidence is damning. For instance, a secret UK government report held Modi “directly responsible” for the 2002 Gujarat riots. In it, investigators cited widespread rape of muslim women, of attempts to “purge Muslims from Hindu areas,” and fo the riots showing “all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing.”

Modi, who was voted in as prime minister in 2014 and then again in 2019 despite his divisive politics, faces reelection in 2024.

Quotable: Indian authorities denounce BBC’s Modi documentary

“The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible. If anything, this film or documentary is a reflection on the agency and individuals that are peddling this narrative again” —Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the foreign ministry.

2002 Gujarat riots and BBC documentary, by the digits

59: Hindu pilgrims who died on a train that had been set on fire. The blame fell on the state’s Muslim population, kicking off riots in the state.

More than 1,000: Muslims who died in the violence across the state as police allegedly stood by instead of protecting the minority community

302: Number of former judges, bureaucrats and prominent figures who issued a joint statement accused the BBC of pushing a British imperialist agenda and “setting itself up as both judge and jury to resurrect Hindu-Muslim tensions”

Students are watching the BBC documentary in protest

Students at Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) organized a viewing of the documentary on Tuesday (Jan. 24). When the university cut off electricity to stop the screening, they started watching the documentary on their phones.

At Jamia Millia Islamia, another university in the capital, classes were canceled today (Jan. 25) and members of a left-wing student union were detained as riot police patrolled the area, ready to use tear gas.

“When they ask us NOT to watch, Watching itself is resistance. We will watch, will make hundreds watch. Let the people remember Gujarat 2002,” Mayukh Biswas, general secretary of Students’ Federation Of India (SFI), tweeted, sharing how several campuses in Kerala screened the movie.

One more thing: India banned another BBC documentary

In 2015, India banned another BBC documentary—India’s Daughter, which traced the horrifying December 16 Nirbhaya gang rape case—claiming the film, featuring an interview with the rapist, appeared to “incite violence against women.”

The ban was put in place to protect India’s name and reputation, but ultimately ended up giving the documentary more publicity than it would’ve gotten if it had just been released without protests. Similar dynamics appear to be at play in the case of India: The Modi Question.

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