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Sedition: The Govt’s Toolkit To Target Free Speech And Dissent

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After 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi’s arrest in the toolkit case, discussion on the right to free speech and dissent, and support for the activist started trending on social media. She was arrested from Bengaluru for editing and sharing a toolkit that was posted on Twitter by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg for extending support to the ongoing farmers’ protest. She was charged under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting hatred against various communities on social/cultural/religious grounds) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.

What Is A Toolkit And What Does It Consist Of?

A toolkit is a document used by campaigners to provide protest spots, garner support, raise awareness and suggest strategies to mobilise protests. This toolkit in concern consisted of documents of strategies to get more support for the farmers’ protest. It had strategies on how to make the issue trending on Twitter and the decided hashtags for this. It called upon people from all over the world to organise protests outside their respective Indian embassies to support the Indian farmers’ protest.

Credit: Indian Express

What Are The Contentions On Ravi’s Arrest?

1. Why was she arrested for supporting the farmers’ protest?

In 2012, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) included economic security in the definition of the Act under the then UPA government. Economic security covers monetary, fiscal and financial stability, which includes security of means of production and distribution, food security, livelihood security, energy security, ecological security and environmental security. Now, anything that threatens the ‘economic security’ of India comes under the horizon of ‘terrorism’.

This law can be easily used against any resistance to environmental clearances given by the government to big fossil fuel companies. For example, if a climate activist resists the allocation of coal mines to reduce India’s carbon footprint, they can be arrested as a ‘terrorist’ for disrupting economic security as per the UAPA, while all they are doing is simply dissenting against government policies and using their right to freedom of expression.

2. How did the Delhi Police and magistrate not follow the interstate arrest procedures?

Ravi was arrested by the Delhi Police in Bengaluru. According to the UAPA law, the accused should be presented before the nearest magistrate, which should have been in Bengaluru in this case, so that the accused can defend themselves against illegal arrest and the police can reason its actions. But Ravi was directly presented before the magistrate in Delhi, that too without her legal counsel.

New Developments

The Court granted bail to Ravi on grounds of insufficient evidence with a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties of Rs 1 lakh each. The following observations were made by the Court in the bail order:

(a) Right to freedom of speech includes the right to seek global opinion.
(b) Formulation and edition of a Whatsapp group or a harmless toolkit is not an offence.
(c) No evidence suggests that Disha Ravi subscribed to any secessionist ideas.
(d) Personal liberty cannot be restricted based on propitious anticipation.
(e) Citizens can’t be put behind bars just because they don’t agree to state policies.

Opinions

Image: Free Press Journal

The government has tried to put the protesters in a bad light since the starting of the farmers’ protest. It has claimed to reveal a grand foreign plot to defame India and tarnish the country’s international image. Historian Ramchandra Guha put this incident as a next step to target the right of freedom of speech and dissent of the educated middle class. He came forward to support Ravi and claimed this arrest as the fear in the government for independent thinking and activism by the youth of the country.

Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted that India is standing on very shaky foundation if a 22-year-old climate activist has become a threat to the nation.

Created by Astha Kumari

Was it right to arrest Disha Ravi?

Background

Ravi is the founder of the Indian chapter of Fridays for Future. It is an international climate change protest network that was launched by teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg in 2018. Ravi has been part of campaigns to protect the environment such as the Aarey forest in Mumbai and protection of biodiversity paradise in Goa.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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