On January 27, 2023, police detained 24 students at the University of Delhi (DU) who attempted to screen a documentary about India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
The documentary, titled “India: The Modi Question,” analyzes Prime Minister Modi’s handling of riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when he was then Chief Minister of the aforementioned state. Following its release on January 17, Prime Minister Modi’s government described the documentary as “propaganda” and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) used Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to ban it on YouTube and Twitter.
The National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) organized a screening of the documentary on January 27, outside the DU Faculty of Arts building. The DU administration did not grant NSUI permission to hold the event and referred to the implementation of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in the area, which prevents public gatherings within a specific jurisdiction. DU’s Proctor reportedly told Times of India that he believed “the screening was being organised for political reasons and to create disruptions.”
According to NDTV, before the screening, a group of students protested the implementation of Section 144. Another group of students opposed to the documentary screening arrived on the scene and reportedly clashed with the protesters. Police also arrived on the campus, reportedly at the request of DU officials, and ordered students who gathered for the screening to cancel it. When NSUI members began to set up equipment, police forcefully dispersed and detained students.
According to Hindustan Times, students from other organizations attempted to set up equipment at the same location after the police intervened in NSUI’s screening. Students from this group were reportedly detained by police as well. In videos posted to Twitter by Asian News International, police are seen grabbing students and pushing them onto a bus or carrying them away. The detained students were released later in the day.
Scholar at Risk is concerned about the cancellation of a student event and the detention of students for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions aimed at restricting or intending to deter students’ freedom of expression and assembly on campus undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.