A group of over 500 Indian scientists and academics has expressed dismay at the “censorship” of the BBC documentary India: the Modi Question, stating that it violated the rights of Indians to access and discuss important information about their society and government.
“The Indian government has had the documentary removed from social media under the pretext that it is ‘undermining the sovereignty and integrity of India’. This justification does not withstand scrutiny,” read a statement endorsed by them.
Noting that university administrations across the country had attempted to prevent the screening of the documentary, they said the move violated the principles of “academic freedom”.
“...such discussions are crucial for the proper functioning of a democratic society. It is unacceptable for universities to block the expression of some views, merely because they are critical of the government,” the statement said.
The statement said the documentary did not raise any fundamentally new points. Already, in 2002, the National Human Rights Commission had reached the conclusion that “…there was a comprehensive failure of the State to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Gujarat, starting with the tragedy in Godhra ... and continuing with the violence that ensued in the weeks that followed”.
Similar conclusions were arrived at by numerous scholars, filmmakers, and human rights activists over the past 20 years.
“In spite of this, those who were instrumental in encouraging and enabling the violence in Gujarat in 2002 have never been held to account. This accountability is crucial, not only to prevent a repeat of such events but also to reverse the communal polarisation that threatens to tear the country apart today. Therefore, the questions raised in the BBC documentary are important. Banning the film will only further silence the voice of the victims of this violence,” it said.
“...our criticism of censorship in India should not be interpreted as a blanket endorsement of the BBC or of the British establishment. We are aware that Jack Straw, who appears in the documentary, was the British Foreign Secretary in Tony Blair’s cabinet. In this role, he was responsible for spreading falsehoods about ‘Iraqi weapons of mass destruction’, which were dutifully repeated by the BBC and used to justify the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people,” said the statement.
The signatories encouraged viewers of the documentary to “supplement their information with the voluminous and reliable material produced by Indian scholars and activists, documenting both the horrific events of 2002 and the appalling situation faced by minorities in the country today”.