At 21 years old, Disha Ravi is one of the most active and influential climate change activists in India, a country that is among the world's worst carbon emitters. Now, she is in jail. Authorities in New Delhi have locked up the young activist, claiming that she has tried to create an uprising against the government by creating a protest “tool kit” supporting the ongoing farmers protests.
The protests started late last year when the Indian government passed three laws that would eliminate the safety net in place for small farmers. The new rules got rid of guaranteed prices and created a less regulated market that would leave farmers at the mercy of private corporations. Farmers have taken to the streets to demand that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal these laws and restore the previous bit of security that farmers were provided by the government.
India is holding Ravi on suspicion of sedition, The New York Times reported, and New Delhi police on Twitter accused her of being the "key conspirator in [the] document's formulation and dissemination." Prem Nath, the joint commissioner of the Delhi police, explained the sedition charge by saying during a Monday press conference that "the main aim of the tool kit was to create misinformation and disaffection against the lawfully elected government," according to CNN. Nath went on to claim that Ravi and other activists "sought to artificially amplify the fake news through various tweets which they have created in the form of a tweet bank."
While law enforcement is trying to make it sound nefarious, the so-called "tool kit" is something that would likely be familiar to anyone who has been involved in organizing or protesting in the past. A version of it still online and contains information like background about the protest, calls to action, and links to petitions — all items that are consistent with the type of content shared by any grassroots movement. The document also contained basic scripts for how to call and speak with government representatives, along with templates of tweets and hashtags that could be used to help spread information. The "dissemination" of the tool kit amounts to Ravi sharing the document via a WhatsApp group, police said.
The tool kit started getting attention after Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist shared a link to the document on Twitter. Thunberg described it as being put together by "people on the ground in India" and recommended that her followers use the document to help protesters spread their message. Shortly after Thunberg tweeted out the document, forces within India's government started throwing out accusations of a mass conspiracy. VK Singh, India's minister of state for transportation, tweeted out a call to "investigate the parties which are pulling the strings of this evil machinery."
To be clear: That is a minister and former general of the Indian army accusing a 21-year-old of running a vast conspiracy to take down the entire government via a Google Doc. Ravi is no stranger to protest, but the Times described her activism as "passionate, but fairly limited." She led a campaign in 2018 to clean up the lakes and parks in Bangalore, has participated in reforestation efforts, and has led vegan picnics to help educate her peers about climate change. She founded Fridays for Future India, a local branch of the global youth climate activist movement that was founded by Thunberg in 2018. Fellow activists in India report that she is respectful and law-abiding; one of her peers told the BBC that, "I always noticed she never transgressed the law,” while others described Ravi as a "funny, goofy girl" who idolizes Jane Goodall.
All of this makes the jailing of Ravi all the more troubling. India has been accused by humanitarian groups of detaining activists for criticizing government policies in the past, and those practices have been ramping up recently as the state tries to silence dissent from the farmer protests. The government has done everything in its power to try to stifle this movement, including cutting off internet and allowing law enforcement to engage in violent clashes with protesters.
Davi has not yet been formally charged but will spend five days in police custody, a potentially harrowing experience for a young woman accused of attempting to incite a rebellion against the Indian government. Police in India are notorious for using violence against accused criminals, and women in the country have accused officers of sexual assault and rape while in custody. India is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, and safety is anything but guaranteed while in the custody of an increasingly authoritarian government that appears hellbent on stifling dissent.