Disha Ravi and all variations of her names has been the highlight of every news and social media channel in the country.
Now that angry young woman Greta Thunberg has tweeted in support of the young climate activist, the debate is sure to generate even more TRP and so dominate the newsrooms of big media houses where some poor intern would be forced to draw convoluted conclusions and connections between the Khalistani Movement, the farmers protest, a Swedish climate change activist and a young 20 – something-year-old languishing in jail for daring to help spread awareness about an issue in the international media.
On 3rd February 2021, Greta Thunberg echoed a tweet by international pop sensation Rihanna on the farmers’ protest and expressed solidarity with them. She further shared a ‘toolkit’, a document that listed all the handles to be tagged and websites that could be referred to for more information on the topic.
Sounds innocent enough, right?
Well, the right-wing disagrees. Alarmed by the sudden international awareness of the topic, or perhaps finding a silver lining in the form of a chance to completely deviate the public’s attention away from the issue at hand, allegations of the toolkit being an anti-national document perpetrating hate against the country and misinformation about the protest along with spreading a Khalistani agenda spread like wildfire.
The Delhi Police subsequently did, what it does best, file an FIR against the makers of the document.
On February 14, 2021, Disha Ravi was arrested from her home in Bangalore. She was remanded to five-day police custody. Two days later, after a case filed by her lawyers, Disha was allowed by the court to meet her lawyers for 30 minutes every day, talk to her parents for 15 minutes, and some warm clothes and a home-cooked meal as well as given a copy of the FIR registered against her.
On February 19, after the expiry of her 5 days judicial custody, she was further remanded to a 3 days Judicial Custody.
The charges against her reportedly include Sections 124A, sedition; 153A, promoting hatred amongst various communities on social/cultural/religious grounds; and 120B, criminal conspiracy of the Indian Penal Code. She has also been accused of having Khalistani connections and plotting to “promote disaffection against the Indian state.”
In Sandeep Kumar vs. The State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi), the Delhi High Court laid down guidelines to be followed in an interstate arrest which state that in case of an arrest made by the police in another state, the police must first inform the local police and confer with them with regard to their purpose of visit and inform them of the impending arrest. Further, the accused must be produced before the ‘nearest’ magistrate within 24 hours.
The accused has a right to consult his or her lawyer before being taken from the state. Further, a transit remand must be obtained from the magistrate after he or she has examined to the full satisfaction that arrest is legal and warranted.
The accused must be arrested by officers in full uniform, bearing all tags with clear and accurate information.
In the present case, the Bengaluru Police, far from being consulted, was not even informed of Disha’s arrest till she was on a plane to Delhi.
The police conveniently circumvented the provision of mandatorily producing Disha before the nearest magistrate by formally recording her arrest in Delhi and not in Bengaluru. The Supreme Court has however held arrest to mean ‘physical restraint put on a person as a result of an allegation or accusation that he has committed a crime’.
It is also reported that Disha was arrested by plainclothes officers who did not inform her family of the details of her arrest.
Several renowned and senior lawyers have criticised the arrest, calling the Police’s actions unlawful. Senior Advocate Rebecca John, who was following the procedure, in a Facebook post, questioned why the Magistrate disregarded the fact that Disha Ravi did not have adequate representation while remanding her to five-day judicial custody.
John also questioned why the Magistrate did not raise questions on why Disha was brought directly to Delhi, without any kind of transit remand from Bangalore or examine her arrest memo and case diaries.
The fact that Disha Ravi did not have adequate legal representation violates the very basic principles of natural justice along with her fundamental rights and decades-long legal precedent. In a time where the integrity of the Indian Judiciary is in question, this is a worrying fact. It is being alleged that the crime branch deliberately sabotaged Disha’s legal representation by providing them misinformation about the court where Disha was produced. Similar allegations had been made in the arrests of Safoora Zargar and Munawar Faruqui.
The order of the magistrate to five-day police custody has also raised questions. According to Rule 8 of the Delhi High Court Rules, an accused should be remanded to as short police custody as possible. Geeta Luthra also expressed concern about the duration of the police remand.
This whole episode seems to be another addition to a series of recent arrests by the police in various states where the accused were booked quite often under draconian laws, without following the due process and later, upon a proper inquiry by the court, acquitted and released. Case in point the arrest, detention, violation of rights and subsequent release of Dr Kafeel Khan and Munawar Faruqui.
It is quite clear that the magistrate failed to apply a judicial mind to the case and Disha Ravi has become a martyr to the active persecution of dissenters by the government. Though not new in the NDA regime, with the UPA government liberally misusing laws to silence dissenters, the recent rise in the cases of people being booked under draconian laws, denied basic rights is nothing if not a testament to the abuse of law the establishment is employing in order to dissuade dissent.
A very effective way to crush protest among the youth is to make their families afraid. If Greta Thunberg was an Indian, her parents would’ve relocated, changed her name and identity and banned her from social media for fear of their safety but not before she would’ve been called a terrorist and riddled with threats of assault and rape, and all her personal information doxed online, the favourite weapon of the right-wing.
The irony is, the whole chain of events is being touted as an attempt by foreign “anti-national” elements to malign India’s image in the international community. By Disha Ravi’s arrest and the manner of it, India has proven that it doesn’t need any foreign elements to malign its image, it’s domestic actors are quite adequate at the task, with a very clear and open message being sent across the world “We will crush dissent”.
Update: On February 23, Disha was granted bail after the court remarked that there was not enough evidence on record to substantiate the accusations along with making some key points with respect to the wrongful invocation of sedition in cases of dissent.