The documentary that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi censors so that no one sees it

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during one of the re-election ceremonies for this year’s elections in New Delhi, India. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi) (ADNAN ABIDI/)

In the last week, the Indian government censored the Internet, going so far as to black out entire neighborhoods of New Delhi so that no one can watch a documentary about the BBC. He ordered Youtube to remove fragments of the video. He sent a similar order to Twitter, telling that platform to remove any tweets that contained links to those clips. The documentary, titled India: The Modi Question. portrays a series of violent riots in the western Indian state of Gujarati in 2002. More than a thousand people died, the majority Muslims. The film reveals confidential British government reports describing the riots as “typical of ethnic cleansing” and is responsible “directly” to Narendra Modithe then Hindu nationalist Chief Minister of Gujarat and who is today the Prime Minister of India.

As per orders from India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, clips of the documentary and tweets referring to them were to be removed under the information technology laws that the Modi government launched in 2021. According to a report, senior officials from different branches of the government reviewed the documentary and found it to be “an attempt to call into question the authority and credibility of the Supreme Court of India, sow divisions among various Indian communities and making baseless accusations about the actions of foreign governments in India.” An official told The Hindu than the documentary undermines “the sovereignty and integrity of India” and could “negatively affect law and order in the country.”

Modi, India, BBC documentary
The clandestine showing of the BBC documentary on Modi in a market in the city of Jaipur. The video tells the story of an ethnic massacre in 2002. (Reuters)

The documentary, which was broadcast in two parts last week by the BBC, narrates the episode for which More than 2,000 people, the vast majority from the Muslim minority, were killed in three days of inter-ethnic violence. It all started on February 27, 2002 when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from the city of Ayodhya, where a religious festival had been held, was attacked. There, 58 people lost their lives. It was then that the Hindus blamed the Muslims for the act and started attacking them. The official report says that in the following days 1,044 people died, another 223 disappeared and 2,500 were injured. Hundreds of rapes and the destruction of entire neighborhoods were also recorded. Independent witnesses said the death toll is much higher. Ethnic violence was already installed in that state when Modi held the post of minister responsible for security and began his rise through the ranks of the Hindu nationalist party. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the documentary it appears Jack Strawwho was the chancellor of the United Kingdom at the time, and claims that “Chief Minister Modi played a very active role in withdrawing the police and tacitly encouraging Hindu extremists”. Among the dead were three British citizens and this allowed the London government to send an investigation team to Gujarat at that time. The report they produced indicates that the aim of the riots was “to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”, something that, the opposition assures, has now become a state policy under the Hindu nationalist agenda of the BJP. The UK imposed sanctions against Modi for ten years ending in 2013.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi responded that the documentary was intended to promote a “discredited narrative”. And he added that the “bias”, the “lack of objectivity” and the “continuous colonial mentality” are “blatantly visible” in him. “It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it, and we don’t want to dignify such efforts,” he told a news conference in New Delhi. The British channel BBC clarified that “The documentary was rigorously researched according to the highest editorial standards.” Modi himself appears several times in the video giving his position on what happened.

Social networks are censored in India under a law that marks what can be considered by the government as
Social networks are censored in India under a law that marks what can be considered by the government as “anti-nationalist”. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration) (Dado Ruvic/)

In 2012, an investigative commission that had been selected by the Indian Supreme Court of Justice cleared Modi of all charges. A year later, incriminating documents appeared that had been thrown out by the commission, but the Supreme Court acted again, closing the case for good in 2014, when Modi became prime minister. Since then there has been a significant increase in attacks against Muslims, which make up 15% of India’s 1.4 billion people.

Ultimately, the battle is over freedom of expression and is being waged on social media. India has several laws that give officials the authority to order information providers to remove or block access to content, including Information Technology Act of 2000which allows the government to block content “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State and public order.” Another additional law that the Modi government passed in 2021 bills itself as a “digital media code of ethics” which obliges social media platforms to remove content within thirty-six hours of receiving a government order and to assist law enforcement in their investigations. Foreign social media companies are also required to hire a local employee who can handle these official requests. “Some critics have called it ‘hostage law’since these local employees could end up in jail if their employers refuse to cooperate”, explains in an article the Columbia Journalism Review.

Modi, BBC, documentary, censorship
Clandestine screening of the BBC documentary in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Bombay (Twitter)

Are “gag” laws they were put into practice, for example, in 2021 when there were huge protests by farmers. At that moment, Twitter removed more than 500 accounts that had posted comments critical of Modi and the government.; the company also used its “country withhold” feature, a geo-blocking tool, to hide Tweets from users located in India. Although a year later, with another case of attempted censorship, the now company of Elon Musk sued the Indian government. The lawsuit qualified the order of excessively broad, arbitrary and disproportionate. Twitter argued that the content in question was political commentary, criticism, or newsworthy, so it should not be removed. The case is still in court. But the government maintains censorship on various sites, including that of the prestigious opposition magazine The Caravan (

Modi, BBC, India, Censorship.
The BBC documentary, shown in two parts, portrays a series of violent riots in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. More than a thousand people were killed, most of them Muslim.

Since then, censorship has increased on all social networks, particularly those of Indian origin or global ones with local offices. The Modi government proposed to congress a law by which it would have the power to remove any type of content that it deems “anti-national”, a concept of extraordinary breadth. The Publishers Guild of India said the law “will stifle legitimate criticism of the government and have an adverse impact on the ability of the press to hold governments accountable.” Obviously India is not alone in this path of censoring social media. Vietnam Y Pakistan They already have rules about calls “fake news” that give their respective governments wide latitude to remove content, or compel companies to do so, in the name of “public order and security.” Brazil Y Poland they are studying similar laws. and the Turkish government Recep Tayyip Erdoganpromotes a law that threatens long jail terms to the authors of articles and posts on social networks that “spread inaccurate information” and generate “fear” and “panic” in areas such as “internal and external security”, “public order” and “public health”.

Modi used the vast power he already has to control free speech and Elon Musk’s new Twitter obeyed. The platform agreed to the Indian government’s request to remove the links to the BBC documentary. The accounts where parts of the video were reproduced on You Tube and Facebook were also blocked. And the most unusual thing happened when a group of students from the University of New Delhi organized the exhibition of the documentary on a giant screen that they had erected in the middle of the campus. At the moment when the projection was supposed to start, the police cut off the electricity supply. And by mistake, they also left populous nearby neighborhoods without electricity for several hours. Although several opposition parties resorted to another resource: they move with trucks that carry giant screens and organize public exhibitions in popular markets where censorship does not reach.

Keep reading:

How is the intricate system of classified documents in Washington in which Trump, Biden and Pence were trapped?

After 70 years, Japan turns and remilitarizes in the face of threats from China and Russia

Bloody struggle between the salt mines and the frozen fields for control of Soledar and Bakhmut