Disha Ravi and the Toolkit Controversy

Disha Ravi was arrested last Saturday on charges of sedition against the Indian government for sharing a ‘toolkit’ document on how to support the farmers’ protests in India. The document contained guidelines on how to participate in and organise protests, mainly focused on creating international awareness of the farmers’ agitation. Her arrest has been criticised as a blatant crackdown on free speech and democracy. This is being seen as an intimidation tactic perpetrated by the federal Indian government. Greta Thunberg, who shared the toolkit via Twitter, has not commented on Ravi’s arrest.

Disha Ravi is a 22-year-old Indian climate activist. She is also a local founder of Fridays for Future, a global movement for climate change begun by Greta Thunberg, 18-year-old climate activist. Ravi has a reputation of being a law-abiding activist. For example, during a recent campaign to save trees, Ravi approached her local government to seek permission before launching her protest.

Ravi was arrested last weekend for sharing a document intended to help Indian farmers protest against new agricultural laws that will be disadvantageous to them. According to the police, Ravi was a “key conspirator” in the “formation and dissemination of this ‘toolkit'”. This document suggested methods of helping the farmers in their protests and was Tweeted by Greta Thunberg. The Indian police said “The call was to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India.”

Ravi was charged with sedition – the crime of inciting hatred against the government. Her arrest has been decried as an attack on democracy and free speech. She did not have a lawyer present during her hearing, and one was not provided for her.

Ravi’s arrest is the latest in a series of crackdowns on any dissenters against the Indian government, perpetrated by the state itself.

“I did not make the toolkit. We wanted to support the farmers. I edited two lines on 3 February.” – Disha Ravi

A copy of the toolkit can be found here.

India’s Farmers Protests

Artwork by @seerat.designs

For months, the Indian farmers’ protests have been peaceful. Last month, they took a violent turn when protestors clashed with police in Delhi. However, the leaders of the protest have attributed this incident to a fringe group, and urges people not to discredit this otherwise peaceful movement.

The Indian government has since said they would postpone the bill in question for 18 months, but farmers want a full repeal. Negotiations have not been fruitful.

Artwork by @almost_bobby & @bob_almost

Protestors in India have been ongoing since August 2020, as the Indian government passed three bills of agricultural legislation which refuse to acknowledge or consider the demands of farmers and agricultural unions.

The government of India has prioritised corporate absorption, with no regard for the significant work of farmers, as they decrease trade regulations of their goods and regular supply of essential commodities.

These three new laws are considered a threat to the livelihood and existence of these farmers.

This has now become a human rights issue in terms of worker and labour rights and regulation.

The Indian government insists that the new laws will make it easy for farmers to sell to large corporations. Farmers are afraid that this will leave them vulnerable to being taken advantage of by said corporations.

They are also concerned about no longer being entitled to MSP – the minimum profit price the government was previously paying them.

Artwork by @mirsuhail

The peaceful protests took a violent turn in January 2021.

On India’s Republic Day, farmers drove their tractors into Delhi to protest. They were met with armed armed police carrying tear gas and assault rifles, beating them with batons. Hundreds of people were injured and one protestor was killed.

In response, the government restricted internet access in areas where the protests were taking place & wasted no time in labeling the event an ‘act of villainy aimed at destabilising the country.’

The protesters are demanding that Prime Minister Modi repeal the recent farming laws. The government is reshaping farming in India in ‘the hopes’ of growth for private investors without considering the interests and opinions of the farmers themselves.

Their existing protection is already at a bare minimum, and by removing state intervention, they will be left with no protection & under the thumbs of big, corrupt corporations.

“The laws have been so contentious because agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion population, and farmers have been arguing for years to get the minimum guaranteed prices increased. They are the biggest voter block in the country – making farming a central political issue. The government has held rounds of talks with leaders of more than 30 farmers’ unions that are opposed to the laws – but the talks have gone nowhere.”

Nodeep Kaur is a 24-year-old labour rights activist who comes from a family of politically active women. She was protesting with the farmers against the new laws when she was arrested on the Singhu border on the 12th of January. She has now been in jail for over 20 days. On the 2nd of February, her bail was rejected.

“When I went to meet her at Karnal jail a day after she was arrested, she had told me that she was beaten up brutally by male police officers and had injury marks on her private parts. We had immediately asked for a medical test to be done, the report of which will be submitted in court. We still have no clue what happened to that report.” – Rajvir Kaur, Nodeep’s Elder Sister

Artwork by @seerat.designs

If you would like to help the farmers in India, head to one of the websites below:

American Sikh Council – Search for “support all farmers”

Khalsa Aid International