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Protests in Delhi University over BBC documentary, 24 detained

BySadia Akhtar and Hemani Bandhari
Jan 28, 2023 01:11 AM IST

Some students said they were roughed up by police personnel deployed on the campus but Delhi Police denied the charges. University proctor Rajni Abbi said the screenings were being planned to “disrupt universities” and no one could screen a banned film in a public space

Protests erupted at Delhi University’s Arts Faculty on Friday as police stopped members of student political groups from screening a controversial BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots that the government has called a piece of “propaganda”, and detained at least 24 people.

National Students' Union of India protest as police intervene the screening of the banned BBC Documentary 'India: The Modi Question', at Faculty of the Arts, Delhi University, on Friday. (ANI)
National Students' Union of India protest as police intervene the screening of the banned BBC Documentary 'India: The Modi Question', at Faculty of the Arts, Delhi University, on Friday. (ANI)

Some students said they were roughed up by police personnel deployed on the campus but Delhi Police denied the charges. University proctor Rajni Abbi said the screenings were being planned to “disrupt universities” and no one could screen a banned film in a public space.

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Senior police officers said they were informed by the DU administration about the plans to screen the documentary. They denied using force against the protesters.

Deputy commissioner of police (north) Sagar Singh Kalsi said that the situation was normal by evening. “All measures are being taken to maintain peace and tranquillity in the area,” he said.

There were reports that prohibitory orders were imposed in DU after the protests, but senior officers said they were already in force December 31.

ALSO READ: BBC documentary: Delhi University seeks police help; screening planned on Madras campus

Similar disruptions and protests have been reported from universities across the country since the first episode of the two-part documentary was aired last week on BBC-2 in the UK. The documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the state, sparked a controversy with the central government rejecting it as propaganda and a reflection of a “colonial mindset”.

On Thursday, Congress-backed National Students Union of India’s (NSUI) Kerala unit announced it will hold a screening of the documentary on a laptop at 4pm on Friday. Police were deployed in large numbers outside the Arts Faculty with members of various student organisations raising slogans and showing banners. Members of NSUI’s Kerala unit attempted to screen the documentary but were detained by the police. Various other student organisations also attempted to screen the documentary but their members were also detained by the police.

ALSO READ: BBC documentary screened at Jadavpur University; ‘Kashmir Files’ in Hyderabad

A consortium of student organisations – including Fraternity Movement, Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch (BSCEM), Bhim Army Student Federation (BASF), Democratic Students’ Union (DSU), All India Revolutionary Students Organization (AIRSO), and Student Islamic Organisation (SIO) – had also called for a screening at Arts Faculty, Gate number 4, at 5pm. However, when students started preparing for the screening, university guards prevented them. Police then entered the premises and detained the students.

Earlier this week, protests rocked Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia as university authorities warned students to not screen the documentary without permission. Students at JNU alleged that the administration deliberately disconnected power supply to prevent the screening of the documentary, a charge the administration denied. At Jamia, 11 students were detained on Thursday, hours before they had planned to screen the documentary.

Neeraj Kundan, national president, NSUI, did not respond to requests for comment.

Shahid Ashfaq, president of SIO, DU, said, “We wanted to screen the documentary on the campus but the administration prevented us from doing so when we began making arrangements. Our members were beaten up brutally by the security guards and the police also entered the campus to detain us. Students were forcefully dragged out and taken to different police stations.”

Hanan, secretary of the Fraternity Movement, said various members of the group were arrested when they came together at Arts Faculty to screen the documentary.

Abbi, who is also a former Bharatiya Janata Party mayor of Delhi, said that the university had written to the police “pre-emptively” apprehending violence.

“We had inputs that screening of the documentary had been planned. However, no permission had been sought from us and the situation could have turned violent. The call for one screening had been given by NSUI-KSU which is probably the Kerala unit of NSUI, and not the unit that we have in Delhi. We don’t know if they are genuine students or not. We had written to the police to avoid any disturbance,” said Abbi.

She also termed it an organised attempt to disrupt peace in different universities. “The screenings are being meticulously planned. Earlier in the day, a similar screening was organised at Ambedkar University. They had planned all this to disrupt peace in universities. One can see a pattern. First, JNU, then Jamia. We also read about (screening at) Jadavpur University,” said Abbi.

A senior police officer said that they had inputs from the administration about plans to hold the screening. He added that nearly 150 police personnel, including senior officers, were deployed near the Arts Faculty. “Nearly 25 people gathered at the main gate and started installing a screen. They were asked to not do so and disperse as it could disturb peace in the area. Officials held banners asking the students to leave. All of this was videographed as well,” the officer said, adding that when the students did not disperse, 24 were detained. He also denied that force was used against the protesters.

Around 5:30pm, about 100-150 students gathered at the Vivekananda statue to screen the film. “Security officials of the university asked them to leave but when they did not, they were removed from the spot. Police officials did not enter the university premises and none of those students were detained,” the officer said.

Students at Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) alleged that the administration cut off power supply in the campus to stop the screening of the documentary scheduled at 1pm on Friday. They said the students then assembled inside the university canteen, where they watched the film on laptops and mobile phones.

An AUD spokesperson denied the charge. “There was an electricity outage in the whole university campus. The university administration had nothing to do with it.”

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