As the Union government is trying hard to curb the screening of the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question, college and university students across the campuses are pushing back against the block by showcasing it with their own means and new ways.
Following the Student Federation of India (SFI) Central Executive Committee’s calls for nationwide screening of the documentary, the Hyderabad Central University (SFI) Unit of the SFI on Thursday, 26 January, screened it on campus.
However, the screening didn’t take place easily. The SFI HCU Unit had to overcome several hurdles.
The SFI HCU unit released a poster on Wednesday, 25 January, announcing the screening of both episodes of the documentary on the campus on Thursday, coinciding with Republic Day. The venue was the North Shopping Complex on campus.
The Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) HCU unit responded with another poster, saying it would screen The Kashmir Files, a controversial film, at the same venue and at the same time on Thursday.
“The ABVP wanted to create a ruckus amongst the students here. As you have seen, they have already attacked SFI cadres screening the documentary in JNU and Pondicherry University. They wanted to provoke us by scheduling the movie screening at the same location,” said SFI HCU Unit secretary Siva Durga Rao.
He added that the ABVP HCU did not follow the democratic practices of the campus.
“The HCU ABVP has already screened the movie and arranged a discussion over it at the very same schedule and venue in the past. It was the tactic from the ABVP to divert attention though conflict,” said Siva.
To not clash with the ABVP HCU in any form, the SFI HCU decided to screen the documentary at a different location — the North LH gate.
However, it received an email from the university administration asking it not to screen the documentary as “permission was not sought from the concerned authority”.
Later, the SFI HCU also received a call from the Gachibowli police station asking it not to screen the documentary.
“This campus has the culture of holding democratic debates and discussions. We have conducted several screenings over the years. The campus was always open to any debate and discussion. That’s what we told the police official,” SFI member and Students’ Union president Abhishek Nandan told South First.
By 6 pm, police officials arrived at the new venue of the screening. After a few enquiries, they left before the screening began.
By 6:30 pm, the SFI HCU unit started the screening of the documentary for a gathering of over 400 students.
It should be mentioned that another students’ group, the Fraternity Movement, screened the BBC documentary on Saturday, 21 January, making it the first screening of the documentary on campus.
— Sumit Jha (@sumitjha__) January 26, 2023
ABVP screened The Kashmir Files
As the screening of the controversial movie The Kashmir Files was scheduled at 6 pm at the North Shopping Complex, ABVP members were fully prepared for it.
“The administration asked us to not screen the movie,” ABVP member Sravan B Raj told South First.
However, just before the screening, the projector and the screen, which were being brought from outside to the campus, were stopped by the security guard of the university at the main gate.
ABVP members at the campus reached the main gate and there was a small exchange of words between them and the security personnel. The ABVP members subsequently protested at the main gate.
They, however, managed to somehow arrange for another projector and a screen inside the campus.
“It’s up to the administration to tell us why they seized our projectors,” said Sravan.
The ABVP started the screening of the film by 7 pm, amidst some police presence on campus.
Screening at EFLU as well
Around 60-70 students of the Student’s Collective also screened the two episodes of the BBC documentary at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) at Amberpet in Hyderabad.
The students gathered at 5 pm and the screening went on till 8 pm, without incident.
“We watched the documentary simultaneously, on their personal devices. After this, there was a discussion on the documentary and broader issues of censorship, freedom of expression, and suppression in university spaces,” a member told South First.
EFLU students expressed their solidarity with students nationwide, who they believe were intimidated by the administrations for holding screenings of the documentary.
“Over the past few days, the persecution faced by the student community is condemnable. We also touched upon the targeted persecution of marginalised communities, the atmosphere of fear and suppression under the current government, communal polarisation, and the state of declining democracy in the country,” the member said.