16 february 2021

Climate Activist Jailed in India as Government Clamps Down on Dissent

Evening Globe, February 16, 2021

Earlier than anybody outdoors her hometown knew her identify, Disha Ravi spent 4 years elevating consciousness amongst younger folks in Bangalore in regards to the results of local weather change.

Now the 21-year-old activist is jailed in New Delhi. The allegation: She distributed a “device package” within the type of a Google Doc containing speaking factors and call data for influential teams to drum up help for farmers who’ve been protesting in opposition to the Indian authorities for months.

The doc — which the police say she shared with Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish local weather activist — resembles the type that grass-roots organizations around the globe have used for years to marketing campaign for his or her causes.

However Ms. Ravi, the police contend, was utilizing it to “unfold disaffection in opposition to the Indian State.”

The arrest, the newest in a sequence of broader crackdown on activists, has triggered anger and disbelief amongst opposition politicians, pupil teams and legal professionals, who say the federal government is utilizing its regulation enforcement businesses to more and more stifle dissent, according to a broader deterioration of free speech in India. Ms. Ravi’s arrest, they mentioned, has raised the crackdown to a brand new stage.

“There’s a methodology to this insanity,” mentioned Manshi Asher, a researcher with the nonprofit group Environmental Justice, “and a sample that’s so clearly telling us that these asking essential questions could be silenced.”

Ms. Ravi is being held below a stringent sedition regulation that has been used to criminalize every part from main rallies to posting political messages on social media. Though she has not been formally charged, she is to spend 5 days in police custody.

In its response to different contentious insurance policies — together with citizenship legal guidelines that worked against Muslims, a clampdown on the disputed Kashmir region and the farmers’ protests — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has resorted to arrests, stifling dissenting voices and blocking access to the internet. Groups that track internet freedom say India’s has declined for a third consecutive year.

For months, thousands of farmers, many of them Sikhs from the agricultural heartland state of Punjab, have camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi, protesting a slate of new laws that will dismantle a subsidy system that has for decades protected them from the vagaries of the free market.

The protests have been largely peaceful. But on India’s Republic Day, as Mr. Modi watched a military parade in central Delhi, farmers streamed into the city, using tractors to remove barricades. Clashes with police left dozens injured. One farmer was killed when his tractor flipped over near India’s Supreme Court.

Members of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party used the incident to claim the farmers’ protest had been hijacked by Sikh separatists. The farmers, in turn, say the violence last month was the result of a government conspiracy to derail their movement.

The police opened an investigation into the violence and on Saturday they raided Ms. Ravi’s home in the southern city of Bangalore, bringing her to Delhi.

On Sunday, Ms. Ravi appeared in court without a lawyer, telling the judge that she had edited two lines of the Google Doc, but had not disseminated it.

“They are the ones who are providing us with our food,” she told the court, referring to the farmers. “And we all need to eat.” The document described why Indian farmers were protesting, and included links to the websites of organizations focused on agricultural issues worldwide.

Ms. Thunberg initially tweeted a link to the “tool kit,” which Indian authorities say was proof the young Swedish activist is part of an international conspiracy against India. The tweet was later deleted.

Ms. Ravi’s career as an activist could be described as passionate, but fairly limited.

When she was 18, she led a campaign to clean Bangalore’s lakes and parks. She started a reforestation drive, and organized vegan picnics to educate young people about the impacts of climate change.

Ms. Ravi was inspired to join the farmers’ movement because of her grandparents, farmers whom she saw struggle to tend land battered by both drought and downpours.

“Her day starts with educating people about climate change,” Ms. Ravi’s friend Yuvan Aves said, “and it ends at speaking for politically and marginalized groups.”

Tamanna Sengupta, a climate activist who has worked with Ms. Ravi, said the government arrested Ms. Ravi because they wanted to make her an example and dissuade others from helping farmers in their struggle.

“They will soon come for the protesting children,” she said.

Emily Schmall contributed reporting.

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