Protests after 22-year-old Indian climate activist Disha Ravi arrested in “unprecedented attack on democracy”

Students protested the detention of 22-year-old Indian climate activist Disha Ravi on Tuesday after she was arrested over the weekend for allegedly helping create a digital “toolkit” to help people around the world support India’s protesting farmers.

Ravi, who heads up a local branch of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg‘s advocacy group, is known for her work cleaning up lakes, planting trees, and campaigning against plastic in her local area, Bengaluru.

She was detained after Thunberg tweeted a link to a document which suggested ways people in countries around the world could support India’s farmer protests, including by tweeting at authorities and demonstrating outside their local Indian embassies.

“Historically marginalised farmers, who were first exploited by feudal landlords and colonisers pre-Independence, and by globalising and liberalizing policies since the 1990s, are the backbone of the Indian economy even today,” a new edited version of the “toolkit” document tweeted by Thunberg said.

“Despite thousands of suicides caused due to indebtedness and lack of structural support, an absence of solutions to deeply-rooted problems has further been exacerbated by the new farm laws that were passed without any consultation with these farmers who provide for a majority of the Indian population’s daily food consumption,” the document continued.

On Monday, both Ravi’s lawyer and Thunberg declined to comment on Ravi’s arrest, according to the Reuters news agency.

Police said Ravi “collaborated” with separatist groups to “spread disaffection against the Indian state.” She was detained on charges of sedition and a conspiracy to incite protesting farmers to violence, and Delhi police called her a “key conspirator” behind the document.

“Economic, social, cultural and regional war against India”

Thunberg shared the “toolkit” document on Twitter more than a week after clashes on January 26, India’s Republic Day, when a tractor rally by the farmers protesting in India’s capital Delhi turned violent and hundreds of demonstrators and police were injured. She was among several international celebrities, including singer Rihanna and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris, to speak out in support of the farmers.

Police said they believed it was Ravi who shared the “toolkit” with Thunberg and then asked her to remove it from Twitter it after it was accidentally leaked. They said the “toolkit” was part of a conspiracy aimed at waging an “economic, social, cultural and regional war against India.”

Police also took out arrest warrants against two other activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, for allegedly collaborating, alongside Ravi, with separatist groups to create the “toolkit” document. The three activists had a Zoom video meeting before the Republic Day farmer’s protest to gather online support for the tractor rally, police said.

“Disha Ravi has been arrested after following all due processes. Whether someone is 22 or 50 years old, law treats everyone equally. The court was in agreement with the decision to arrest her,” Delhi Police Commissioner S.N. Shrivastava told reporters on Tuesday. 

“Unprecedented attack on democracy”

Several activists, environmentalists and politicians have spoken out against Ravi’s arrest.

On Monday, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the detention of the 22-year-old an “unprecedented attack on democracy,” and said that supporting farmers was not a crime.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an association of dozens of farmer unions leading the protests, said her arrest was a “brazen misuse of police power by the government.” 

“I see this as part of a pattern of how PM Modi deals with anti-government protests,” Kavita Krishnan, activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told CBS News. “It’s completely OK to organize protests against the government, but this government treats this as sedition. They want to choke off the support farmers enjoyed for some time so that the protests are reduced to small group,” she said. 

In a joint statement, more than 50 Indian academics, artists and activists said It is “becoming increasingly clear that the current actions of the central government are diversionary tactics to distract people from real issues like the ever-rising cost of fuel and essential items, widespread unemployment and distress caused due to the lockdown without a plan, and the alarming state of the environment.”

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