PUDR strongly condemns the arrest of Bengaluru based Disha Ravi, a twenty-two-year-old environmental and climate change activist on 13th February in the ‘toolkit’ conspiracy case for which she has been charged with sedition, criminal conspiracy and for promoting hatred. She was produced before a Metropolitan Magistrate in Patiala House on Sunday, 14th February and remanded to five days of police custody. Disha is said to have edited and shared an advocacy toolkit which climatologist Greta Thunberg uploaded on Twitter in support of the ongoing farmers agitation. The police also claim that Disha and others collaborated with a pro- Khalistani group which, allegedly, has been involved with the farmers’ agitation, and with the incidents of 26th January in Delhi. Currently, two others, Nitika Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, have had to obtain pre-arrest transit bail from the Bombay High Court as the Delhi Police had issued non-bailable warrants against them.
Disha Ravi’s arrest has raised questions as family members have alleged that the Delhi Police arrested her without observing the inter-state arrest protocols. Further, several commentators including members from the judiciary have noted that there is nothing in the advocacy toolkit which can be read as inciting violence or disaffection.
Disha is an active member of the India chapter of Fridays for Future (FFF) an environment organisation. In July 2020, FFF was targeted with notices under UAPA and IT Act for its targeted email campaign against the Environment Impact Assessment Notification which had reduced public consultation for projects and allowed for post-facto clearances. Both notices were withdrawn but FFF had come under the police’s radar.
In charging Disha Ravi with sedition, the Delhi Police has used a colonial era law which despite being read down by the Supreme Court in 1962 to refer to only those expressions that incite violence, is being invoked incessantly against peaceful forms of dissent. By alleging international conspiracy against the nation via a toolkit, the police is seeking to clamp down on digital platform users by defaming their support for the farmers’ agitation as an instance of sedition. The ‘toolkit’ has become a catch word on the pretext of which a ‘conspiracy’ is being constructed to register a cluster of sedition cases against dissenters and protesters much like the anti-CAA protests lately. That the use of sedition law is politically motivated is well represented in government’s own figures. As per the NCRB’s latest figures in 2018 and 2019, 163 cases of sedition have been filed, in 43 cases trial was completed of which only 3 resulted in conviction. The rising number of cases along with failing rate of prosecution year after year have been attributed to the use of the law in cases that are legally unsustainable, a fact that has also been observed by courts while dismissing cases or granting relief to the accused.
The arrest of Disha Ravi directly infringes upon the democratic rights to freedom of expression and protest, and insidiously distracts attention from the farmers’ demands and the government’s responsibility in resolving the crisis.
- Immediate and unconditional release of Disha Ravi and a quashing of the FIR against her and others.
- Repeal of the law of sedition.
Radhika Chitkara and Vikas Kumar