Condemn the Indian Government’s attempt to stop screening of the documentary movie by the BBC on the role of Narendra Modi in the Gujarat Riot of 2002. Condemn the JNU administration’s choking of democratic space inside the campus
The recently broadcast, “India: The Modi Question” (first part) is a BBC-made documentary on Narendra Modi and the Gujarat genocide of 2002. The movie has been withdrawn not only from YouTube and Twitter but also from the US-based archive.org. Thus the Indians are stopped from viewing it by the NDA government at the centre. To any Indian, the theme and coverage in the documentary film which traced the origin of the RSS, the rise of Narendra Modi within the RSS to become the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the Godhra train burning incident and gory details of the riot for three days when the police force virtually remained defunct are all well-known. Perhaps what is not well-known and as revealed in the film, the British government had sent an investigation team to know what had happened in Gujarat. The BBC, while making this film, accessed this report and clearly states that Modi was directly responsible for the killings, loot and rapes that took place with complete impunity. The film also questions the killing of Haren Pandya, the former minister who was critical of Modi, and remarks that it is quite possible that he was killed elsewhere and not inside the car as reported.
Thus, it is quite clear that this film will no doubt put Modi in a spot of bother. As a response to it the Government of India invoked the “Emergency Powers” under IT rules to effectively stop this from streaming on the internet. This blocking of the film in India is a testimony of how Modi sees democracy and how scant regard he has for freedom of the press. It comes as an irony that Modi, in the film, is heard saying candidly “Yes, one area where I was very weak — how to handle the media.” By choking the voice of the free press, he has perhaps proved beyond doubt how he would have liked to handle the media back in 2002.
Does this effective choking of alternate voice constitutionally valid? To understand it, one needs to look at the provisions of Rule 16(3) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. According to this rule, the authorised officer must report this ban to the Interdepartmental committee within 48 hours and the committee is supposed to pass its final order regarding the request for banning. In the case of the BBC documentary, 48 hours have elapsed but no official communication is seen. More importantly, and as pointed out by Delhi High Court Adv. Harshit Anand, this violation of listening to the other side (audi alteram partem) is a violation of natural justice and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and will have a severe effect on the freedom of expression in general and in the working of journalists and media in particular. Adv. Prasanna said succinctly “… The documentary seems to be merely about certain people, not about the entirety of the government of India. Merely because the present Prime Minister as a personality is criticised, it does not automatically mean that the government of India is being criticised. Therefore, the government of India invoking its ‘emergency powers’ is also an excess.” (https://www.thequint.com/news/law/bbc-documentary-are-emergency-powers-under-it-rules-constitutionally-valid#read-more). What makes the entire process questionable is the fact that the Union government, according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), has not yet been tabled the 2021 rules before the two houses! This inaction by the government goes against Section 87 of the IT Act which mandates “… every rule made by it (Central government) shall be laid, as soon as may be after it is made, before each House of Parliament”.
Thus, it is evident, that the Union Government has acted in an unprecedented hurry to stop the screening of the film in India. In a shocking display of loyalty by the administration of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to Modi, the JNU administration tried to prevent the JNU Students Union from screening the film. When the students decided to go ahead with the screening, the administration stooped to a record low and shut down electricity on the campus and there was no internet in the hostels. Undeterred, a group of JNU students started streaming the documentary on personal devices near the Students’ Union office as a sign of protest. However, as reports turned in at this point in time, the students, who were screening the documentary film, were attacked by a stone-pelting group. In another incident, Jamia Millia University students had planned to show the film and were prevented by the university authority in the name of disruption of peaceful campus life. As if this is not enough, the Delhi police had picked up more than 70 students and as per the latest news, 13 students are still under police detention.
CDRO calls upon all democratic rights organisations and media activists to screen the documentary film and spread the right to view that is now attempted to be restrained by the IT authorities. Only such a defiance can help establish freedom of expression and help bring out the truth about the governance model to the citizens.
CDRO protests strongly against the undemocratic move of the union government as well as the official high-handedness shown by the JNU and Jamia Millia University administration and demands:
- an immediate withdrawal of the imposition of the ban on screening of the film through the use of the unconstitutional and draconian Emergency Act of the IT Rule, 2021.
- an unconditional apology by the JNU administration for shutting down electricity on the campus and the internet in the hostels.
- that the JNU administration must ensure the safety of its students and allow free discourse of different thoughts inside the campus.
- that the detained 13 students of Jamia Millia Islamia University should be released without any further delay.
Asish Gupta Tapas Chakraborty Kranthi Chaitanya
Constituent Organisations of CDRO:
Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Punjab); Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Haryana), Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR, West Bengal); Asansol Civil Rights Association(West Bengal); Bandi Mukti Committee(West Bengal); Civil Liberties Committee (Andhra Pradesh); Civil Liberties Committee (Telangana); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (Maharashtra); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR TamilNadu); Coordination for Human Rights (Manipur); Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (Assam); Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights; Peoples’Committee for Human Rights (Jammu and Kashmir); Peoples Democratic Forum(Karnataka); Jharkhand Council for Democratic Rights (Jharkhand); Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (Delhi); Peoples Union for Civil Rights (Haryana), Campaign for Peace & Democracy in Manipur, Delhi; Janakeeya Manushyaavakasha Prasthanam, Kerala.