Indian police have sparked outrage after arresting climate activist Disha Ravi for “circulating anti-government information.”
Indian politicians and activists have condemned the arrest of the 22-year-old climate campaigner after she was accused of editing an online document that Greta Thunberg had promoted in support of the farmers’ protests.
In what many are calling an outright attack on free speech, Ravi was arrested on Saturday after she shared the “toolkit”, containing information on the farmers’ demonstrations, as well as how to join the rallies and support the movement online.
Police said the arrest was part of an investigation into how a group of farmers stormed the historic Red Fort on India’s Republic Day last month. “The main aim of the ‘toolkit’ was to create misinformation and disaffection against the lawfully enacted government,” Delhi police official, Prem Nath told reporters.
Police have registered a case of sedition and criminal conspiracy. Most worryingly, the colonial-era sedition law carries a penalty of a life sentence. “The toolkit sought to artificially amplify fake news through various tweets which they have created in the form of a tweet bank. And they sought the public to participate in the action on 26 January that was the Republic Day of India,” Mr Nath said.
India’s farmers have been demonstrating against agricultural reforms that they say harm their livelihood but benefit large corporations.
Addressing an @INCKerala protest in front of MahatmaGandhi’s statue on the arrest of #DishaRavi & #NikitaJacob, I argued that India was far greater than the petty insecurities of weak men persecuting a 21 year old for exercising her democratic rights. Stand up for India! pic.twitter.com/A32aNGOTpk
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) February 15, 2021
Since late November, farmers have camped on roads leading into the capital, calling for new agriculture laws to be repealed in one of the largest challenges to the Modi government since it came to power in 2014.
While the farmers’ protests have been mainly peaceful, thousands of civilians overwhelmed police and stormed into the historic Red Fort complex in Delhi on January 26, after driving tractors through roadblocks and tearing down barricades.
Ravi, a co-founder the Indian arm of Thunberg’s climate crisis-related Fridays for Future movement, has been demonstrating alongside India’s farmers against agricultural reforms that will harm their livelihood for benefit large corporations, according to Reuters.
We as a Youngster from a DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY have no rights to VOICE OUT for Social/Environmental cause? Supporting our farmers is not a CRIME. We demand that #DishaRavi be released @PMOIndia. As a YOUNGSTER & WOMAN I will stand with her #ReleaseDishaRavi pic.twitter.com/jItqYvd7zA
— Padma Priya (@Tamizhachi_Offl) February 15, 2021
On Sunday, Ravi was arrested and taken to the New Delhi from her home in the southern city of Bengaluru to question her was remanded in custody until a court hearing in five days. Thunberg said she had no comment on the detention of Ravi.
The crackdown comes as India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s government, faces allegations of suppressing dissent. The government denies the charge and says people are free to protest if it is done peacefully.
Police have also confirmed they are also looking to detain two associates of Ravi in a widening probe, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu.
We ARE STILL are a democracy.
Dissent is normal even if you don’t like it.
In solidarity with the hero, Disha Ravi. pic.twitter.com/t0gSwdivdt
— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) February 15, 2021
According to Reuters, Ravi’s circle of friends in Bengaluru said they were terrified for her and for themselves if they were dragged into the probe. However, the activist’s arrest has sparked outrage across the nation, with citizens, activist groups, and former government officials rushing to condemn her detainment.
A leader of the main opposition Congress opposition, P.Chidambaram, commented on the Mod Government’s responses “shakiness.”
“The Indian state must be standing on very shaky foundations if Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old student of Mount Carmel college and a climate activist, has become a threat to the nation,” he said.
— Rihanna (@rihanna) February 2, 2021
Meanwhile, a former minister and lawmaker for the opposition Congress party, Jairam Ramesh, called Ravi’s arrest and detention “completely atrocious” and an “unwarranted harassment and intimidation”.
A coalition of activist groups has also demanded Ravi’s release, saying it is “extremely worried for her safety and wellbeing”.
To Delhi’s fury, celebrities including Rhianna, and US Vice President, Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris have also been outspoken on Twitter about India’s treatment of farmers and activists protesting the – with Delhi calling them “sensationalist.”
Now, Modi’s government says that Ravi’s group collaborated with individuals wanting to create a separate country in the northern state of Punjab, where many of the protesting farmers are from.
This falls in line with the ongoing message being spread from Delhi that activism such as Ravi’s is designed to wage a cultural war against the government and create division among the various groups of Indian society.