The Delhi Police’s first arrest in the high-profile case of sedition and criminal conspiracy registered 10 days ago over a toolkit tweeted by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on the farmers’ protest is a 22-year-old woman from Bengaluru — a move that has been slammed by Opposition leaders as “shocking” and “atrocious”.
Police said they took Disha Ravi, who is an environmental activist, into custody in Bengaluru Saturday afternoon and “formally arrested” her in Delhi Sunday. They produced her in a Delhi court, which remanded her in police custody for five days — two less than what the prosecution had wanted.
During the hearing at the Patiala House Court before Metropolitan Magistrate Dev Saroha, Ravi broke down and told the court that she was not part of any conspiracy or group. “I was just supporting farmers…because they are our future…they are the ones who are providing us with our food and we all need to eat,” she said, adding that she did not create the toolkit and only made two edits to the document.
Ravi’s arrest was slammed by Opposition leaders and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), which demanded her “immediate, unconditional” release.
“SKM condemns the arrest of young climate change activist Disha Ravi, who stood in support of the farmers. We also demand her immediate, unconditional release,” the Morcha said in a statement.
Congress Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma described the arrest as “most unfortunate and shocking” while his party colleagues P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh condemned the police move. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury posted on Twitter that the arrest “will awaken the youth of the country”.
“The arrest of climate activist Disha Ravi is most unfortunate and shocking. Custodial interrogation of a young woman without any criminal antecedents cannot be justified. Police should recognise her right to liberty and courts must respect the Supreme Court judgment, which says bail is the rule and jail an exception,” said Sharma.
Former Union Home Minister Chidambaram tweeted that the “Indian state must be standing on very shaky foundations” if a 22-year-old climate activist “has become a threat to the nation”. “A ‘took kit’ to support the farmers’ protest is more dangerous than the intrusion by Chinese troops into Indian territory! India is becoming the theatre of the absurd and it is sad that the Delhi Police has become a tool of the oppressors,” he posted.
Ramesh slammed the move as “completely atrocious” and “unwarranted harassment and intimidation”. Yechury tweeted that the arrest will “strengthen the struggles for democracy”.
A member of Disha’s defence team said he did not attend Sunday’s hearing since the police did not provide clarity on where she would be produced. “We have to see the order to figure out what happened in court and then we will take a future course of action. Ideally, she should have been given a lawyer,” he said.
The toolkit was posted by Thunberg — she deleted the initial version and posted another — even as a series of celebrities, including pop star Rihanna, tweeted in support of the farm protests.
While those tweets drew a sharp response from the Ministry of External Affairs, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed during a visit to Assam last weekend that a global “conspiracy”’ was afoot to defame the country’s tea industry and none behind it will be spared. It was seen as a veiled reference to the toolkit wherein it was said that India’s “yoga and chai” image should be disrupted as part of the pushback against the Centre’s farm laws.
According to police, the sequence of events in the farmers’ protests, including the violent incidents at Red Fort on Republic Day, was a “copycat” of the alleged action plan in the toolkit.
On Sunday afternoon, police alleged that Ravi “was the one who shared the toolkit document” with Thunberg. “Later, she asked Greta to remove the main document after its incriminating details accidentally got into the public domain. This is many times more than the 2-line editing that she claims,” the police tweeted from its official handle.
The public prosecutor told the court that it was part of a “larger conspiracy” with links to Khalistani separatists. The police also said in their tweets that Ravi allegedly started a Whatsapp group and worked closely to draft the toolkit. She also allegedly collaborated with “pro-Khalistani group Poetic Justice Foundation” to spread disaffection against the Indian state, it said.
According to police, Ravi is one of the founders of Fridays For Future India. Fridays for Future is an international movement for climate change that gained widespread popularity after Thunberg protested outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018.
Anil Mittal, Additional PRO, Delhi Police, said: “The Cyber Unit of Special Cell is investigating the conspiracy behind the Google document — toolkit. They found that Ravi was one of the editors of the toolkit and also a key conspirator in the document’s formulation and dissemination.”
On February 3, Thunberg shared one version of the toolkit on Twitter on the farm protests. She later deleted the tweet, saying the toolkit was being “updated by people on the ground in India”, and uploaded another the next day.
The one that was deleted had sections that asked those interested to start a ‘Twitter storm’ on February 4 and 5; share a solidarity photo/ video message by email to firstname.lastname@example.org; call/ email government representatives and ask them to take acton; divest from “monopolists and oligopolists like Adani-Ambani”, and organise protests “on-ground…near the closest Indian Embassy, media houses and local government offices” on February 13 and 14.
The shorter, updated toolkit said it was a “document meant to enable anyone unfamiliar with the ongoing farmers protests in India to better understand the situation and make decisions on how to support the farmers based on their own analysis”.
It also asked those interested to tweet their support to farmers to use the hashtags #FarmersProtest and #StandWithFarmers. It does not mention Adani or Ambani but asks people to divest from fossil fuel industries.
On February 4, Delhi Police’s Cyber Cell registered a case against the creators of the toolkit on charges of sections of sedition, criminal conspiracy and promoting hatred. At the time, Special CP (Crime Branch) Praveer Ranjan had said that a preliminary enquiry indicated that the toolkit was created by “pro-Khalistani organisation” Poetic Justice Foundation.
On Sunday, police told the court that Ravi’s custody was required to trace two more persons who they intend to arrest in the case. It submitted that her custody was required to ascertain her alleged “links with Khalistani networks”. The police also said that the content that she edited was missing from her phone and that the data has to be recovered.
Incidentally, in July last year, the Cyber Unit had sent a notice to an internet service provider to block Fridays For Future’s website under section 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of the UAPA. The notice was sent on a complaint by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar regarding an incident of “multiple emails with the subject name EIA 2020”.
Fridays for Future had been pushing for the withdrawal of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 draft. However, the police later said they had withdrawn the notice and dropped charges under UAPA.
The latest campaign announced by the platform is an international call under the hashtag — No more empty promises — on the recent devastation in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli. The campaign talks of the proliferation of construction activity in the state, specifically the Char Dham project which is under construction.
(With inputs from Manoj C G & Esha Roy)
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