Disha Ravi’s Arrest: Have India’s Outspoken Youth Become Its Enemy?

Social Commentary

Disha Ravi’s Arrest: Have India’s Outspoken Youth Become Its Enemy?

Illustration: Arati Gujar

On February 13, 22-year-old climate activist, Disha Ravi, was arrested from her home in Bengaluru. The FIR against her was filed in Delhi following which she was brought from to the capital on the grounds of sedition and conspiracy. She was arrested for allegedly formulating and disseminating the toolkit that was used when the farmers’ protest turned violent on January 26. This very toolkit was also shared by Greta Thunberg and other activists the world over. Currently, Ravi is in the custody of Delhi police and will be for five days. She has been given no access to legal counsel. The police claim that her lawyers have intentionally skipped the court hearing so that she would be sent to judicial custody instead of police remand. As a result, she has had to argue her own case. Ravi is also one of the founders of the Indian leg of Fridays For Future (FFF), an international movement to spread awareness about the climate crisis.

A “toolkit” as is being demonised by the police is simply a collection of important information and resources disseminated to all protesters in all kinds of demonstrations around the world. It is a key method of documenting and has been around for eons. Toolkits also help log data like locations, plan of action, and any other secondary information that is integral to those at the frontlines of the protest, in this case, the farmers. Ravi had merely made two edits to the Google Doc, a fact that is being used to justify her arrest. She claims that she was never involved in formulating it. Even if she were, there is nothing illegal or seditious about the dissemination of toolkits. Almost all protests have them. Her arrest has garnered reactions from national and international media with politicians and lawyers, activists and academics alike coming forward in her support. Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy said the sedition charge is “deeply egregious”, activist Kavita Krishnan tweeted, “As I had warned, the FIR against the toolkit shared by @GretaThunberg is no joke, it is the latest flimsy pretext for a witch-hunt of activists in India.”

The official Twitter handle of Delhi Police has given an abhorrent statement to defend the arrest of this young activist. They have called her “pro Khalistani” and have claimed that she collaborated with the Poetic Justice Foundation in order to “spread disaffection” in the Indian State. It must be noted that this is not the first time that the police or those in power has resorted to unwarranted name-calling in order to discourage the support of citizens in favour of activists. Today anyone who has actively dissented gets labelled “anti-national”, becomes part of the “tukde tukde gang” or even “terrorist” for that matter. Now a mere toolkit edit has become a national threat.

Following Ravi’s arrest, non-bailable warrants against two more activists have also been issued – Nikita Jacob and Shantanu for preparing the toolkit document along with Ravi. The police also claim that they were instrumental in organising a “tweet storm” ahead of the Republic Day protests.

Are these arrests meant to act as precedents for those who dare to disagree with the popular narrative?

From Ravi’s arrest, emerges a pattern – categorically attacking the youngsters of the country who are actively involved in politics. Student activists have been arrested willy nilly and charged with arbitrary claims – for raising voices against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act to standing up for farmers. Are these arrests meant to act as precedents for those who dare to disagree with the popular narrative? The constant name-calling, unsolicited arrests, and anti-student propaganda serve as a direct attack on the youth of the country. With the future of the country depending on its succeeding generation, how exactly are they supposed to effect change when every time we demand action, we are literally and figuratively shot down?

Disha Ravi’s is not the first case against a youth activist in the country. And it certainly won’t be the last. It has become almost implicit that if you dissent publicly, there will be criminal charges filed against you. Aishe Ghosh, president of the JNU Student Union, was charged for vandalism and assault on January 7, 2020; even though it was the goons who had trespassed into the college campus and assaulted her. On April 10, 2020, a then pregnant Safoora Zargar was arrested for allegedly organising the anti-CAA protests in Delhi. She was charged with the draconian anti-terror law (UAPA).

Disha Ravi, Umar Khalid, Meeran Haider, Devangana Kalita, Sharjeel Imam, Natasha Narwal… the list is endless. The repeated attempt to stifle student voices has resulted in a shrinking space for the young to participate in politics or to get behind a cause. There is no room left for dialogue, as dissent and debate have become the stairway to prison.

In an interview to US author and professor Gayle Kimball last year, Ravi had said, “In India, protests are a part of life since the Indian freedom struggle was rooted in peaceful protests. There are a lot of protests on humanitarian issues and religious issues and protests are very ingrained in Indian society.”

Sadly, they are not tolerated anymore.