BBC docu screening at Jamia thwarted; protesting students detained; VC says SFI hurting campus peace

NewsDrum Desk
25 Jan 2023

New Delhi, Jan 25 (PTI) Jamia Millia Islamia on Wednesday became the centre of a kerfuffle after a left-affiliated students group's plans to organise the screening of the controversial BBC documentary on the 2002 Godhra riots were thwarted by the varsity and the city police. There was heavy police deployment outside the campus throughout the day and several protesting students were detained, even as Jamia Vice Chancellor Najma Akhtar said some students were trying to disrupt the atmosphere of the campus by trying to organise such events.

The development comes on the eve of Republic Day and a day after the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) witnessed ruckus and protests over the screening of the same documentary.   The screening of the documentary "India: The Modi Question", the access of which was recently blocked by the Centre on social media platforms, was announced by the Students' Federation of India (SFI) on Wednesday. The students outfit had said that the documentary would be screened at MCRC lawn gate number 8 at 6 pm on Wednesday. The Delhi Police detained several activists, nearly four hours before the scheduled event.

"A screening for a BBC documentary was to be organised by a group of Jamia students inside the university today, which was not allowed by the administration of the university. The university administration informed the police that some students were creating ruckus on the streets and therefore, a total of 13 students were detained around 4 pm to ensure peace in the area," DCP (southeast) Esha Pandey said in a statement.

The varsity, however, said they did not seek police intervention in the matter.

“We did not call the police. They were doing their work outside the campus. No screening took place, nothing happened inside the campus,” Chief Proctor Atiqur Rahman told PTI. The university turned into a police garrison with the deployment of a large number of security personnel, including the Rapid Action Force. For several hours, entry gates of the university were shut, causing inconvenience to students and faculty.

A water cannon was also stationed outside the campus. The police also used drones to maintain a vigil over the area.  The university also stepped up security measures by shutting the entry gates and deploying its own security personnel.  Only those students who had an exam at 5.30 pm were allowed to enter the campus.

Pritish Menon, secretary, SFI Delhi state committee said many protesters were detained.

"We were about to begin the demonstration, but the protesters were detained before that. They were taken to the police station. Later most of the students were released, but seven activists are yet to be released," he said.

Amid the row, vice chancellor Akhtar called SFI a "small students group with no following" and accused it of disturbing the peace on the campus.

"We do not want any disturbance on the campus. We desire to keep the peace and harmony in the university where students are studying and giving exams," she told PTI.

The university administration earlier said the BBC documentary screening would not be allowed and that they were taking all measures to prevent people and organisations with a "vested interest to destroy the peaceful academic atmosphere of the university".

The varsity administration also issued a statement, saying no permission had been sought for the screening.

The university had earlier issued a memorandum/circular reiterating that no meeting/gathering of students or screening of any film shall be allowed on the campus without permission from the competent authority.

The SFI's attempt to screen the documentary at the Jamia campus comes a day after a similar event was organised at Jawaharlal Nehru University during which students claimed that power and Internet were suspended and stones hurled at them.  Jamia Millia Islamia had become the epicentre of anti-CAA protests after police barged into the campus and allegedly attacked students in the library on December 15, 2019.

The Union government had last week directed social media platforms Twitter and YouTube to block links to the documentary "India: The Modi Question". The Ministry of External Affairs has trashed the documentary as a "propaganda piece" that lacks objectivity and reflects a colonial mindset.

The two-part documentary claims it investigated certain aspects relating to the 2002 Gujarat riots when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the state.

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