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Jharkhand: BBC Documentary On PM Narendra Modi And Gujarat Riots Screened For The First Time In Ranchi

The two-episode BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi delves into the 2002 Gujarat Riots and explores his role when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The Modi government has banned the documentary and has severely criticised it.

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Screening of the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question
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Bol ke lab, azad hain tere
bol zubaan, ab tak teri hai
teri sutwaan, jism hai tera
bol ki jaan, ab tak teri hai

(Speak, for your lips are free;  Speak, your tongue is still yours,  Your delicate/strong body is yours - Speak, your soul is still yours)

The lines from Faiz Ahmed Faiz's revolutionary poem Bol resonated with the invitation circular for the screening of the BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two-part documentary series was screened by the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha on Sunday 19 at Dr. Ram Dayal Munda Akhra in state capital city Ranchi. 

An open event, the screening invited "all citizens who have faith in the constitutional values." Attended by Jharkhand's notable activists, intellectuals, and students, the screening began around 7 pm. Organisers and attendees cited repeated cancellations by venue owners as a cause for the late screening hour. 

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"Since Akhra is an open space, we would not be able to see anything in daylight. We faced a lot of challenges in organizing the event as people didn't agree to lend their venues for the screening fearing attacks by right-wing goons or government actions," social activist BB Chaudhary told Outlook.

How did people find the BBC documentary?

Jharkhand's Iron lady Dayamani Barla told Outlook that the first part of the series was not reveling to her but it took her back in time as she had been part of a fact-finding team that visited Gujarat over 10 years ago.

"I am a primary witness of the aftermath of the Godhra-Ahmedabad pogrom," Barla said, adding that the Centre's move to ban the documentary after its release and the recent raids on BBC offices in India would generate curiosity to watch the docu-series even among those who are not interested in socio-political matters.

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Talking about the second episode, Barla said it documents the rise of mob lynching under the garb of cow vigilantism in the state of Jharkhand and the incarceration of Muslims in Assam and Delhi during the anti-CAA/NRC movement.

"The second episode has recorded public statements of PM Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah who have been successful in expanding their agenda to make India a Hindu nation," Barla said.

Appreciating the BBC documentary, Barla said that the media organisation has displayed immense courage by releasing it. She said, "If you can speak your mind in a democratic nation, how do you expect to curb the freedom of expression for the rest of us? 

Dr. Karuna Jha, a medical professional and activist, also attended the screening and shared her two cents in Jharkhand.

Jha said, "There was nothing new in the first or the second part of the documentary. The socially and politically awakened section is well aware of the 2002 Gujarat Riots that the first episode revisits. As far as the second episode is concerned, it shows the intensification of sectarian polarisation in the country under the prime ministership of the 'Hindu Hriday Samrat', the savior of the Hindus."

Adding that the BBC documentary stands different from the Indian media channels that portray the reality of how Modi was responsible for the spread of Covid in India, she told Outlook, "The gathering of 10 lakh people in Ahmedabad for Namaste Trump was a superficial and dramatic attempt by the Modi regime to further his own popularity at the cost of infecting the masses without masks and social distancing."

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Jha also said that it is the Indian masses who chose Modi as their leader for the second time in the 2019 general elections, which reflects that they are just as content with hate crimes and mob lynchings under his regime. Therefore, the government should not attempt to conceal the documentary and instead screen it for the public as it would make them happier with its government, said Jha.

A TISS graduate, and researcher, Paran Amitava told Outlook that such screenings should happen across Ranchi as well as Jharkhand.

Amitava said, "While part one of the series proves what went into the making of PM Modi and how the 2002 Gujarat Riots were a state-mechanised pogrom, the second part is both scary and crucial as it exhibits that this government is not a threat only to the Muslims but also to Adivasis and anyone who does not check the boxes of a Savarna Hindu."

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The BBC's India: The Modi Question was banned by the Modi government in mid-January on grounds of being a "propaganda piece" designed to push a particular "discredited narrative". The videos were blocked from multiple social media platforms including YouTube and Twitter. Directions for the blocking were understood to have been issued by Apurva Chandra, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Friday using the emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021.

The ban irked protests and flak from student organizations and the opposition, following a number of screenings within universities and outside them.

Timeline of the BBC documentary saga

January 20: The Centre issues directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the controversial BBC documentary India: The Modi Question.

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January 21: All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary KC Venugopal says, "Narendra Modi is still scared of the truth about 2002 coming out 21 years later. The blocking of the BBC documentary that squarely blames him for the pogrom is a cowardly, undemocratic act, one that clearly shows Modi's dictatorial attitude."

January 21: A group of students at the University of Hyderabad organised a screening of the BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the RSS, later files a complaint with the Hyderabad University authorities, alleging that students screened the BBC documentary at the campus.

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January 24: Several students gather at the JNU Students' Union office for the BBC documentary screening. However, the university administration cut power and internet to stop the event, leading to the cancellation of the screening. Continuing with their protest, the students watched the documentary on their mobile phones. Some alleged that the members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attacked them with stones, a charge the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated student body denied.

January 25: Ahead of the screening of the banned BBC documentary at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, more than a dozen of students were detained by the police.

January 26: The students’ association of the Film and Television Institute of India screened the BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat Riots on the campus.

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January 26: Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) screened the BBC documentary at the Shanghumugham beach, Thiruvananthapuram for the general public.

January 26: Ten Central University of Rajasthan (CURAJ) studebts wrote to the Vice Chancellor demanding the withdrawal of a suspension order against them allegedly over the screening of the banned BBC documentary on January 26.  The Kishangarh-based University suspended 10 students, all boys, for 14 days from both the classroom and hostel. The students told Outlook that all the suspended students are hostellers, coming from different corners of the country. The suspended students also alleged that some Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members, a right-wing all-India student organization created a ruckus at the film screening.

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January 27: A commotion erupted at Delhi University and Ambedkar University as students attempted to screen the BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat Riots, even as the police and the varsity administration intervened to scuttle the move. As many as 24 students affiliated with the National Students' Union of India (NSUI) were detained from Delhi University's Arts Faculty and heavy police deployment was maintained in the North Campus. 

The SFI alleged that the screening at Ambedkar university could not be held as the Delhi government-run university disconnected the power supply, but a QR code with a link to the short film was shared with students so that they could watch it on their personal devices. The protesting students at Ambedkar University also accused the varsity of calling the security personnel.

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January 28: Police stopped the Students Federation of India (SFI) from screening the BBC documentary on Gujarat Riots on the Himachal Pradesh University campus. The SFI activists raised slogans and tried to stop the police from removing the screen installed on the University campus, resulting in a minor scuffle. The screening was stopped after 15-20 minutes, eyewitnesses said. 

January 28: High drama marked the screening of the BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat Riots at the College Street campus of Presidency University, followed by a power outage at a time when over 50 university students were watching the series. Students alleged that the electricity disruption was caused by the university administration who had also moved the venue from the sprawling badminton court to the students' common room.

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January 28: A protest broke out at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) after students decided to hold the screening of the BBC documentary. According to an India Today report, the Bharatiya Janata Party Yuva Morcha (BJYM) held a protest outside the university campus against the students' plan to screen the controversial documentary on PM Modi.

February 10: The Supreme Court dismissed a plea seeking to impose a complete ban on the BBC in India, saying it is "entirely misconceived". A bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and M M Sundresh passed the order while hearing a plea filed by Vishnu Gupta, president of the Hindu Sena, and a farmer by profession, Beerendra Kumar Singh.

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February 14: The Income Tax Department conducted a survey operation at the Delhi and Mumbai offices of the BBC on Tuesday. Income Tax raids on BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai went on for nearly four days.

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