A group of 59 academicians on Thursday urged the Delhi University administration to revoke the punishment given to the students who had participated in the screening of the BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots.

In a letter to Delhi University Chancellor Yogesh Singh, the academicians said that the ground for disciplinary action against the student does not exist as the documentary is not officially banned in the country.

“The memorandum regarding the punishment, as published in the media, states that they had violated the ban on screening of the said documentary by the government of India,” the academicians said. “We want to bring to your notice that it is known to all that the documentary was never banned and is still not banned by the government.”

The letter was signed by Delhi University professors including Apoorvanand, Satish Deshpande, Nandini Sundar, Ira Raja, and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Sucharita Sen, Visva Bharati professor Sudipta Bhattacharyya amongst others.

The British broadcaster had released the first part of the documentary, India: The Modi Question, on January 17. It alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the riots and that he had ordered senior police officers not to intervene.

More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the riots.

On January 20, the government had used emergency powers available under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, to issue directions to YouTube and Twitter to block clips of the documentary from being shared.

Several universities had held screen of the doucmentary and run into controversies. These include Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ambedkar University and Jamia Millia Islamia University, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai and the Presidency University in Kolkata.

On January 28, the Delhi Police had detained 24 students from the Delhi University’s Arts Faculty for planning to screen the documentary. They were released hours later. Subsequently, a disciplinary panel at Delhi University barred two students from appearing for examinations for a year and recommended punishment for six others, according to The Wire.

In their letter, the academicians questioned whether the actions of the students was grave enough to warrant the revocation of their right to take examinations.

“We need not tell you that university is supposed to be a space where students and teachers feel free to get information from any source, decide for themselves and express themselves freely,” the academicians said. “They are adults and can take decisions for themselves.”

In their letter, the academicians also said the documentary was only a critical examination of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the context of the situation of Muslims.

“How could its screening by some students become a threat to order on the campus is beyond our understanding,” they said.

They added: “Their [student’s] screening had not caused any violence or disturbance. Had the security personnel not interfered with the screening and stopped it forcefully it would have passed peacefully.”