In a move that has alarmed many, a court in Uttar Pradesh state last week barred the screening of an Al Jazeera documentary highlighting the hastened plight of India’s Muslim minority, raising fears that the government is curbing the right to criticise its actions and covering up its atrocities against followers of Islam. 
The 14 June ruling by the Allahabad High Court was delivered following a public interest petition from Hindu activist Sudhir Kumar, who cited media reports claiming that the documentary, India … Who Lit the Fuse?, depicted India’s 172-million Muslims as living in fear under the Narendra Modi government. Kumar also alleged that the film portrayed state agencies acting against the interests of Muslims. 
The court ruled in favour of barring the broadcast of the Al Jazeera documentary until Kumar’s petition had received an official review, with the court stating,
“Considering the potential negative consequences of airing the film… we believe the broadcast should be postponed until the cause in the present petition has been reviewed.” 
Additionally, the judges emphasised that the government should ensure the documentary obtains the necessary certification before being shown.
Although the ruling disappointed justice activists, who have accused the government of systematically limiting space for dissenting voices, it nonetheless adds further anxiety to a Muslim population already living under decades of heightened fear, following relentless attacks against them by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and their fascist Hindutva-aligned RSS allies.
RSS and its Hindutva ideology
As part of Al Jazeera’s Point-Blank Investigation series, the documentary exposes the activities of Hindu supremacist organisations that subscribe to the fascist ideology of Hindutva.
The film primarily focuses on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the ideological predecessor to the ruling BJP — and the role they have played in targeting Muslims across India.
The RSS was created by the Hindu supremacist, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, during the interwar period in 1925. Its founding ideology, Hindutva, was heavily influenced by the rise of fascism in Germany under Adolf Hitler and Italy under Benito Mussolini.
Adherents of the poisonous Hindutva belief system seek to mould India into an exclusively Hindu state at the expense of non-Hindu communities, especially Muslims.
Crimes against Indian Muslims
Proponents of this fascist ideology regularly engage in acts of untold violence in the name of Hinduism, targeting non-Hindu communities to assert dominance. Such violence often targets Muslims and is justified and apologised for by senior BJP politicians with the complicity of local police forces.
Hindutva devotees further justify anti-Muslim violence by framing Indian Muslims as “aliens” and “terrorists”. The passing of anti-Muslim laws by the BJP government amplifies this atmosphere of violence and hate, further encouraging Hindutva followers to dehumanise Muslims and intensify violence against them. 
Examples of the horrific violence meted out against India’s Muslims include the barbaric destruction of the ancient Babri Mosque in 1992, and the violent pogroms in the state of Gujarat in 2002 in which Hindutva mobs attacked and murdered up to 2,000 Muslims.
Also during the Gujarat Genocide, more than 200 Muslim women and children were tragically gang-raped and burned alive. The incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the pogroms and it is widely argued that he bears personal responsibility for the deaths of scores of Muslims. 
First the BBC, now Al Jazeera
In January, the government prevented the broadcast of a BBC documentary examining Modi’s involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots. 
The government was so incensed with the negative portrayal of Modi that it invoked emergency laws to ban the online sharing of links and clips from the docuseries.
As such, last Wednesday’s ruling by the Allahabad High Court should be of no surprise. It is yet another attempt by the government to cover up its crimes and atrocities committed against Muslims through the judiciary.
Court order “unlawful”
According to Colin Gonsalves, a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, he notes that unlike films that require certification before public screening, documentaries do not have such a requirement. 
Gonsalves further pointed out that the Supreme Court has repeatedly clarified that the right to free speech includes the freedom to express opinions critical of the government. 
“The court has affirmed that Indians have the right to hear such opposing opinions, and the government must tolerate viewpoints it may find objectionable.” 
The founder of Human Rights Law Network deemed the pre-emptive ban imposed by the Allahabad High Court as being unlawful. 
Gonsalves further stated,
“The state can only restrict a broadcast if it threatens national security or disrupts relations with neighbouring countries. The state can only ban a documentary after it has been shown. If it is screened and triggers unrest, for instance, then it may be banned, but not pre-emptively like this, solely based on speculation.” 
Wider discussion on “freedom of expression”
This recent ruling contributes to an ongoing discussion in India regarding the so-called ideological construct of “free speech”.
Indeed, in early June, the former Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, revealed in an interview that the Indian government had threatened to shut down the company and conduct raids on employees’ homes, due to posts criticising its handling of the 2021 farmers’ protest. 
Rather ironically, through the Twitter platform, the Deputy Minister for Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, lashed out and accused Dorsey of spreading an “outright lie”. 
Despite the Modi-led government being in denial, justice advocates continue to argue that government supporters are actively flagging any forthcoming media content they dislike, not only from domestic sources but also from foreign channels or platforms — as seen by the slapping down of not only one foreign state broadcaster, but two.
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