THEProtesters gathered on the streets of Bangalore, residents standing defiantly alongside students and activists. Their posters featured slogans such as “defending farmers is not sedition” and “when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty” and most featured a photo of a smiling young woman: Disha Ravi, 22.
Ravi has been a familiar figure in Bangalore’s vibrant environmental circles for the past three years, but over the weekend he became the face of the Indian government’s harsh crackdown on dissent.
On Saturday, she was arrested at her home, which she shares with her mother in Bangalore, flown to Delhi, placed in the custody of the Delhi police without a lawyer and charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy.
“This Indian government is targeting environmental activists and Disha’s arrest shows that there is a clear and deeply disturbing pattern,” said Leo Saldhana, an environmental activist in Bangalore. “The point here is to destabilize and then erase all dissent.”
Ravi’s alleged crimes are linked to a “toolbox” document related to ongoing protests by Indian farmers, which police say is evidence of a coordinated international conspiracy against India.
Since November, hundreds of thousands of farmers have camped around Delhi, demanding that three controversial new farm laws be repealed out of concerns that their livelihoods will be left at the mercy of private corporations. Ravi, the farmers’ granddaughter, had passionately supported their cause.
She is no stranger to activism. In 2019, inspired by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, whose global climate protest movement Fridays For Future (FFF) saw millions of schoolchildren around the world on strike against failure to tackle global warming, Ravi co-founded the branch of the FFF network. in India and began organizing strikes across the country.
He had already felt the impacts of climate change in his life. The town house she lived in with her mother, who raised her as a single mother, would flood every time it rained, getting worse every year and her hometown, Bangalore, will run out of water in a matter of years. Her grandparents, who were farmers, had battled drought, poor harvests and floods as a result of global warming.
“My motivation to join climate activism came from watching my grandparents, who are farmers, struggle with the effects of the climate crisis,” Ravi said in a interview in 2019. “At that time, I didn’t know that what they were experiencing was the climate crisis because climate education doesn’t exist where I’m from.”
Whether it was coordinating environmental strikes, participating in lake clean-up operations, organizing tree planting exercises, or organizing climate action workshops, Ravi was always there and known for her deep understanding of the issues. She was also the family’s sole source of income, juggling work at a plant-based food company alongside her activism.
“Disha was known to be incredibly hard-working, completely dedicated to environmental causes to the point where she was consumed because she was deeply committed. Sometimes I worried about her, sacrificing her well-being for her activism, ”said a fellow activist from Bangalore who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of the authorities.
In the international press covering the global phenomenon of the FFF movement, it was Ravi who was interviewed regularly and was often highly critical of the policies of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We are not only fighting for our future, we are fighting for our present,” he told The Guardian in 2020. “We, the people of the worst affected are going to change the conversation in the climate negotiations and lead a fair recovery plan that benefits to the people and not to the pockets of our government. “
Fridays for Future India was already on the radar of the Delhi police. In July 2020, after the group launched an online campaign against a proposed law that would dilute environmental regulations, the group’s website was temporarily taken down by the cybercrime unit of the Delhi police.
Since September, attracted by her personal family connection, Ravi has put her passion behind the cause of Indian farmers. Some fellow environmental activists said they had warned him not to do so. Defending farmers ran the risk of attracting unwanted attention from authorities and the government, which in recent weeks had taken an increasingly draconian approach to those who participated, spoke out or even reported on the protests.
Charges of sedition had already been brought against journalists, activists and politicians, and police had erected barricades of concrete, barbed wire and barbed wire around farmers’ protest camps. Farmers accused of inciting violence in a march had been charged under terrorism laws and denied bail for six months.
The problem for Ravi arose from the document in the toolbox, which was tweeted by environmentalist Thunberg as part of her message that she “supported farmers.” The Google document was a compilation of information, hashtags, suggested actions, ideas, and contacts for those who wanted to help support farmers, a common tool of organized protest movements.
Thunberg’s tweet outraged many in India who saw it as outside interference as protesters burned effigies of his face. The police then seized the document shared by Thunberg as proof that there was a coordinated conspiracy “to wage an economic, social, cultural and regional war against India.” Police accused Ravi and two other people of conspiring with terrorist organizations to create the document and encouraging Thunberg to tweet it to his millions of followers.
Ravi told the court on Sunday that he had only edited two lines from the toolbox, which he said had no seditious motive behind it. “I was just supporting the farmers. I supported the farmers because they are our future and we all need to eat, ”she said, collapsing in the courtroom before being detained for five days.
In the wake of his arrest, a wave of fear swept through environmental circles. The fellow activists were too afraid to speak to the media and many WhatsApp groups used to organize were silent.
Ravi’s arrest also sparked an eruption of outrage. Former Environment Minister Jairan Ramesh called his detention “utterly egregious” and “unwarranted harassment and intimidation,” while a joint statement by more than 50 academics, artists and activists described the actions of the Delhi police as “derogatory. illegal nature “and an” overreaction. ” of the State “.
On Tuesday, the Delhi Women’s Commission, a government body, sent a notice to the Delhi Police demanding more information about Ravi’s case. Former finance minister P Chidambaram was equally scathing. “India is becoming the theater of the absurd,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism