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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.