The Indian government’s efforts to block a BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have backfired as more students across the country have continued planning screenings of the series.
The two-part series titled “India: The Modi Question,” which premiered last week on BBC Two in the UK, details allegations about Modi’s role in the deadly anti-Muslim Gujarat riots in 2002, while he was chief minister of the state.
The government has taken action to limit its citizens’ access to the documentary.
Kanchan Gupta, a senior adviser in India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said both Twitter and YouTube followed the government’s orders issued under the emergency powers granted by India’s information technology laws to block the series.
YouTube, however, claims the links were removed at the BBC’s request.
“The video in question has been blocked from appearing by the BBC due to a copyright claim,” a YouTube spokesperson told HuffPost.
The BBC said this is “standard practice.”
“We issue Takedown Notices to websites and other file sharing platforms where the content infringes the BBC’s copyright,” a BBC spokesperson told HuffPost.
Twitter’s decision to remove some tweets on the documentary appears to stand in direct contrast with CEO Elon Musk’s pledge to protect free speech on the platform. Musk has even called himself a “free speech absolutist.”
Gupta said the government directed Twitter to remove 50 tweets linking to YouTube videos of the documentary. Twitter did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.
In response to a user sharing a story from The Intercept detailing Twitter’s action, Musk said he was unaware of this happening.
“It is not possible for me to fix every aspect of Twitter worldwide overnight, while still running Tesla and SpaceX, among other things,” he wrote Wednesday.
The BBC documentary even appears to be currently trending on Indian Twitter.
Actor John Cusack has shared tweets linking to the documentary — but some of those appear to be blocked in India. Users in other countries can still see the posts and access the links.
Opposition party members have also continued sharing the series, defying the government’s orders.
“What @BBC show proves or disproves is up to viewers to decide,” Mahua Moitra, a member of the All India Trinamool Congress party, wrote on Twitter, adding that the government’s “raging censorship actions are unacceptable.”
Moitra has said she will continue posting links of the second part of the series, which aired Tuesday.
While the series has not aired in India or on BBC World, the BBC’s international news channel, the country’s government has already moved to ban people from viewing it or sharing it online. That decision has sparked fury in universities around the country where students have organised viewings.
Power in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University was cut off Tuesday shortly before the student union had planned to air the documentary, prompting students to share the link on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram for people to watch on their own devices, according to The Associated Press.
At another university in the capital, Jamia Millia University, police arrested half a dozen students who were protesting Wednesday after forces gathered outside the campus in an effort to stop a student group from screening the series, AP reported.
The Indian government has sought to discredit the findings of the BBC’s investigation as propaganda.
“This is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative,” said Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for India’s Foreign Ministry. “The bias, the lack of objectivity, and a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible.”
The broadcaster has defended the documentary, saying its journalists conducted thorough research and offered the government a chance to weigh in.
“A wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP,” the BBC said in a statement, referring to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
The 2002 riots were triggered by a train fire that killed over 50 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. Muslims were accused of setting up the fire, triggering Hindus to respond by burning their houses and properties, according to CNN.
The documentary also touches on a previously unseen British Foreign Ministry report that directly implicates Modi with inspiring and creating a climate that enabled the violence that killed over 1,000 people, most of which were Muslim.
Jack Straw, who commissioned the report as the UK’s foreign secretary at the time, said its findings showed the purpose of the riots “was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas.”
“These were very serious claims that Mr. Modi had played a proactive part in pulling back police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists,” Straw said in the documentary.
Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, wrote that while Modi was exonerated by the country’s Supreme Court in the absence of evidence, his ruling party has not shown a real commitment to justice.
Ganguly explains that men who have been found guilty of rape in the riots are still being held in high regard by the party’s supporters.
“The BJP’s ideology of Hindu primacy has infiltrated the justice system and the media, empowering party supporters to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities, particularly Muslims, with impunity,” Ganguly writes. “The Modi government has adopted discriminatory laws and policies against Muslims and attempted to curb independent institutions.”