The arrest of 22-year-old Indian climate activist Disha Ravi is the latest in a series of heavy-handed tactics that the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is using to suppress support from thousands of farmers who have been protesting agricultural reforms for months.
Delhi police accused Ravi of "editor and chief conspiratorWhen making one farmers protest "toolkit", a document that was widely shared online, including on Twitter by Swedish climate activist Greta ThunbergThe toolkit contains a brief argument for why people should support the farmers' protests, a list of suggested actions people can take internationally to do so, and some additional resources to help people get organized.
Thousands of farmers have been blocking roads to New Delhi for months demanding the repeal of three laws enacting Modi's Bharatiya Janata party. passed in September as part of a plan to make India a $ 5 trillion economy by 2024
The laws, some experts say, are needed to modernize the Indian economy, remove long-standing restrictions on how and where products are sold. Farmers who used to sell their produce in government-sanctioned markets called mandis can now sell wherever they want.
But farmers fear that the reforms will put them at the mercy of big companies who will buy their crops at low prices, leading to their financial ruin. Their case received even more international attention earlier this month, when international celebrities, including pop stars Rihanna and Thunberg, tweeted about the protests.
But that online support also caught the attention of the right-wing nationalist government of Modi, which has tried to spread the story surrounding the protests and suppress dissentThe final action in response to the toolkit is part of that effort.
“The main purpose of the toolkit was to create misinformation and dissatisfaction with the lawfully enacted government,” said Prem Nath, Delhi police officer told reporters during a press conference on Ravi's arrest on Monday.
Arrested by CyPAD Delhi Police, Disha Ravi is an editor of the Google Doc Toolkit and a major conspirator in formulating and distributing documents. She started WhatsApp Group and teamed up to create the Toolkit document. She worked closely with them to prepare the document. @Pvdmeersch @RTLnews https://t.co/e8QGkyDIVv
– #DilKiPolice Delhi Police (@DelhiPolice) February 14, 2021
Ravi, a distinct climate and animal rights activist and co-founder of India & # 39; s chapter of Friday for the future, a student climate movement founded by Thunberg arrested Saturday in her hometown, the southern city of Bengaluru, on charges of sedition and conspiracy. She was then flown in to appear before a court in New Delhi on Sunday, where she was ordered to remain in custody for five days.
Appear in court on Sunday without her own lawyer, Ravi denied the charges. "I didn't create (the) toolkit," Ravi, who was instead represented by a "stand-in" government attorney, told the court. “We wanted to support the farmers. I edited two lines on February 3rd, ”said Ravi.
But according to Delhi Police, Ravi & # 39; s role in creating the document was much greater than she admits. Delhi police say she was a & # 39; major conspirator & # 39; in the & # 39; formulation and dissemination & # 39; of the toolkit and who created (and later deleted) them a WhatsApp group to collaborate with others in drafting the document.
According to local news reports, Ravi is not alone in being accused of her role in editing the toolkit. Delhi police says lawyer Nikita Jacob and activist Shantanu Muluk participated in a Zoom call to discuss the toolkit on Jan. 26, when peaceful peasant protests planned to coincide with the country's Republic Day celebrations culminated in violent clashes with police.
Ravi is being held under a sedition law long used by the government to quell dissent
below India & # 39; s sedition law, which Ravi has been accused of violating, "words, whether spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, bringing or attempting hatred or contempt, or arousing or attempting to arouse dissatisfaction with the government “are punishable by a fine and, in the most extreme cases, life imprisonment.
But Ravi & # 39; s arrest for her involvement in the toolkit seems to follow a dangerous pattern of the Indian government using the sedition law to silence its critics.
A 2016 report Human Rights Watch found that the Modi government "uses draconian laws, such as the incitement provisions of the criminal code, the criminal defamation law, and laws pertaining to hate speech to silence dissent."
"These laws are vaguely worded, too broad and susceptible to abuse, and have been used repeatedly for political purposes against critics at the national and state levels," the report said.
Indeed, several leading legal experts in India have questioned the charges against Ravi, arguing that her support for the peasants is not tantamount to an attempt to overthrow the government. "Supporting farmers is not a sedition," said Rakesh Dwivedi, senior lawyer at the Supreme Court of India. said Monday in reference to Ravi's case.
Another legal expert called Ravi's arrest "unfounded" and told it the Times of India that Ravi & # 39; s action "appears to be nothing more than youthful exuberance in her efforts to address socially important issues on her part," but that her arrest "appears to be a more blatant attempt by the police to discourage dissenters. to silence. "
Ravi's arrest has been further criticized on Twitter by some who view the young climate activist's arrest as the latest in a series of attacks by Modi & # 39; s party on freedom of expression.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on February 14, Ravi's arrest was an "unprecedented attack on democracy".
On the same day, an opposition member of the Indian Parliament, P. Chidambaram, also weighed in on Ravi's arrest, tweeting that "The Indian state must be on very shaky foundations if Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old Mount Carmel University student and climate activist, has become a threat to the nation."
Meena Harris, niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, tweeted a link to Ravi & # 39; s story with information on activists targeted and silenced by the Indian government.
Thunberg, who tweeted a link to the toolkit on Feb. 3 as part of its wider support for the farmers' protests, declined to comment on Ravi's arrest on MondayThunberg and Rihanna have been subject to vicious online attacks by right-wing pro-Modi trolls since speaking out for the farmers.
But Ravi & # 39; s friends are shocked by the arrest of someone they say has struggled to follow the law.
Those who knew Ravi noted how conscientious she was at protests, & # 39; urged all of us not to obstruct traffic or do anything that would disturb others & # 39; a friend from Ravi & # 39; s hometown and a fellow member of its climate group Fridays for the Future said Reuters, who speaks on condition of anonymity for fear of making her situation worse.
"It was hard for me to believe that she is in this situation because she is a very kind, law-abiding person," said the girlfriend.