A 22-year-old climate activist has emerged as a symbol of the Indian government’s crackdown on dissent as the country faces a growing crisis after months of protests by angry farmers.
Disha Ravi was arrested last weekend and accused of insurrection, with a court in Delhi on Friday giving a request to the police to extend her detention for another three days. Her lawyers say she was arrested illegally.
Ravis ‘arrest sparked nationwide protests and renewed concerns of an authoritarian backlash against farmers’ protests that have rocked the country.
She is accused of helping create and distribute an online package listing peaceful ways the public could support the protests. The document was later shared online by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg as she joined a globally famous genre that directed support for the movement.
Since November, tens of thousands of farmers have come out to camps in the capital to protest new agricultural laws they say could ruin their livelihoods and leave them open for exploitation by large corporations.
Ravi vehemently supported the cause, posting on Twitter her support for farmers as they pose a rare and major challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Narendra Modis. Farmers are the most influential voting bloc in India and a major part of its economy.
A well-known figure in the country’s growing environmental movement, Ravi co-founded the Thunbergs Fridays for Future (FFF) Indian chapter campaign, an international movement where students skip school on Friday to protest inaction on climate change.
The movement has taken off in India, with FFF chapters established in more than 40 states. Ravi was regularly seen in protests and is known for the growing voice of the issue and its negative view of Modis environmental policies.
Critics and opposition figures have disputed the claim that the toolkit helped incite violence in farmers’ protests, with the charge of insurgency carrying a possible life sentence raising fears about the future of such movements in India.
South Asia Human Rights Watch director Meenakshi Ganguly described the colonial-era uprising law as draconian and called for it to be repealed.
The insurgency law “is increasingly being used by a democratically elected government in India to target peaceful critics,” Ganguly told NBC News, criticizing what she called “rampant abuse.”
And the data show that the appearance of riot cases has grown since Modi came to power in 2014, with cases raised against figures ranging from authors and journalists to opposition politicians.
Instead of addressing peaceful policy criticisms, or failing to respect rights, authorities have displayed bias, targeting critics by accusing them of draconian riot laws or anti-terror while at the same time not prosecuting government supporters. involving violence, Ganguly said.
Members of the Hindu-Nationalist Modu Party Bhartiya Janata (BJP), however, have defended the use of the law and rejected any suggestion of a blow to dissent.
“We are a country that believes in non-violence, but if there are elements that provoke and create conditions that affect the image of this country, this law is still important,” BJP national spokesman Tom Vadakkan told the BBC.
Ravis’ arrest provoked outrage from high-profile figures, including the lawyer and the perpetrator Meena Harris, granddaughter of US Vice President Kamala Harris. Some Indian politicians, including members of the main opposition party, also expressed their anger.
Others see Ravis’ arrest as an attempt to discourage future activism.
Nine-year-old climate activist Licypriya Kangujam told NBC News that the issue could put India in the most unsafe places for climate and environmental activists in the world.
This is an attempt to silence the voices of young girls and women in the country, she said.
Kangujam, sometimes nicknamed “Indias Greta”, was arrested by police last October during a protest against Delhi alarming levels of air pollution.
But she vowed not to be intimidated and to keep up the pressure on the government.
“Being climate activists, our moral obligation is to support our farmers,” Kangujam said. They are already victims of climate change.
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