Violence mars JNU, JMI students’ attempts to screen BBC documentary

Students watching the documentary, India: The Modi Question, on their mobile devices at Teflas, JNU after electricity was cut off from the campus | Photo by author

At JNU, students claimed they were pelted with stones allegedly by members of the right-wing student body while they were watching the documentary on their mobile phones on Tuesday evening while at Jamia Milia, Delhi Police yesterday arrested students ahead of the screening of the documentary. 

Aatika S |

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NEW DELHI — On the evening of January 24, hundreds of students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi gathered to watch the screening of the controversial BBC documentary on the 2022 Gujarat riots. 

The documentary titled India: The Modi Question based on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure as chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots, has sparked a row after the government invoked emergency powers last Friday to block the documentary on YouTube and Twitter. The opposition slammed the move as blatant censorship. 

This, however, did not stop users from posting links to the documentary on social media, which too were subsequently taken down. Despite the ban, screenings of the documentary were held at Hyderabad and Kerala universities. 

JNU students’ union had planned to organise the screening of the documentary at the union office on Tuesday at 9 pm. However, even before the documentary could be screened, electricity was cut from the campus at 8:30 pm. The administration blamed it on the electricity outage that had affected part of the campus. “There was a major line fault. Even the faculty residences and other facilities are without light,” JNU Vice-Chancellor Santishree Dhulipudi said. 

On Monday, the Vice-Chancellor in a notice had said that no prior permission for the event had been taken. The notice called the planned screening “an unauthorised activity” which may disturb the peace and harmony of the university. It warned of strict disciplinary action against the students if the screening wasn’t cancelled.  

Dhananjay, a postdoctoral student at JNU, told that any event organised by the JNUSU in the union office doesn’t need any prior approval or permission from the administration. 

“This has been the norm so far. Under which law has the administration attempted to curtail the screening? Such a move directly aims to kill the culture of dissent and debate that JNU is known for,” he said. 

Students claimed the varsity administration cut off the electricity and internet to stop the screening of the documentary. 

Dhananjay said that after the electricity cut, an alternative arrangement was made and a QR code was shared amongst the students to watch the documentary. “Each one of us viewed the documentary on our phones and laptops sitting outside Teflas in pitch darkness,” he said. 

As they were watching the documentary on their mobile phones, students claimed they were attacked and stones were thrown at them allegedly by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a charge that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliated student group denied. 

Another student, who requested to remain anonymous, alleged that many ABVP students from JNU, DU and some unknown persons were hiding behind the Narmada hostel bushes in the darkness. 

“They started pelting stones at the students who were watching the documentary. The sudden commotion created a sense of panic and fear,” the student said.  

This led the students to stage a protest and march to the north gate of the campus. 

Raising slogans of “Inquilab Zindabad” and against the JNU administration for allegedly stopping the screening of the documentary, the protesting students marched to the Vasant Kunj police station to lodge a complaint against the “stone pelters.” The students also demanded security at the campus and the restoration of electricity. 

The protest was called off after the police assured them that they will look into the matter.

“We filed a complaint, and the police assured us they will be immediately looking into the incident. We gave the name and details of all the persons involved. As of now, we’re calling off the protest. We will also file a complaint at the JNU Proctor office,” JNU Students Union (JNSU) President Aishe Ghosh was quoted by ANI as saying on Tuesday night. 

Students also alleged that ABVP members were targeting students in other parts of the campus as well. 

Another incident of stone pelting happened when a group of men with their faces covered attacked the students marching towards Ganga Dhaba, a student claimed, while adding, “The protesting students caught two culprits who were throwing stones and who belonged to ABVP.”

Aditya Santosh, a postgraduate student at the university, told that despite their repeated requests, the Delhi police did not arrest the two persons. “The police refused to enter the campus. The Godi Media ran their propaganda right in front of us and fabricated the entire episode. We couldn’t return to our hostels due to the fear of further attacks by ABVP. They had already assaulted two students while many others were injured. Therefore, we instead decided to march to the Vasant Kunj police station to file a complaint. We also plan to raise our complaints in front of the proctor,” she said. 

‘Govt is scared of the documentary’
A female student said that the attacks on the students who had been watching the alleged documentary has left them horrified. “We were forced to run in the dark in panic. The electricity cut only aided the right-wing goons to get away after attacking the students,” she said. 

As soon as the protesting students left for the police station, the electricity was surprisingly restored on the campus, the students claimed. 

Dhananjay said the episode proved that Modi is scared of the documentary. “Therefore, more people should watch it.”

Police inquiry launched
On the complaint filed by students of JNU against the alleged stone pelting and “deliberate” power outage that took place while they were watching the documentary on their mobile devices, the Delhi Police on Wednesday said it has begun an inquiry. 

“No FIR has been filed yet. They (students) have given a complaint and we are enquiring into it,” Delhi Police officials told news agency ANI.

Tensions at Jamia Milia
Tensions also flared up at another prestigious university Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in New Delhi on Wednesday as Delhi Police detained a dozen students ahead of the planned screening of the BBC documentary at the university campus. 

Classes at the university were suspended as dozens of police personnel wearing riot gear were deployed. Only students appearing for examinations were being allowed in and others turned away.

The university administration had prohibited any screening of the film on the campus without permission.” In an order issued on Tuesday, authorities at Jamia said disciplinary action will be taken if the documentary was screened at the university. They said they would not allow any “unauthorised gatherings” on campus after the Students Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), announced the screening on Facebook.

Student activists, waving banners and raising slogans against the crackdown, were seen being hauled away by the police.

Meanwhile, the Students Federation of India in Kolkata’s Presidency University has sought permission from the university authorities to screen the documentary on January 27 at 4 pm. The university authorities have not yet responded to the request. Despite the BJP staging protests against it, the documentary was screened by various political organisations in Kerala.


Aatika S is a fellow at the SEEDS-TCN mentorship program.