A 22-year-old climate activist has become a symbol of the Indian government’s crackdown on dissent as the country faces a growing crisis after months of protests from angry farmers.
Disha Ravi was arrested last weekend and accused of sedition, a Delhi court on Friday granted a police request to extend his detention for another three days. Her lawyers say she was illegally arrested.
Ravi’s arrest sparked protests across the country and renewed fears of an authoritarian reaction to the farmer protests that rocked the country.
She is accused of helping to create and share an online “toolbox” that lists peaceful ways the public could support protests. The document was then shared online by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg as she joined a litany of global celebrities who support the movement.
Since November, tens of thousands of farmers have camped in the capital to protest new agricultural laws which they say could destroy their livelihoods and expose them to exploitation by large corporations.
Ravi has been a fervent supporter of the cause, tweeting his support for farmers as they pose a rare and major challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s authority. Farmers are the most influential voting bloc in India and a key part of its economy.
A well-known figure in the country’s growing environmental movement, Ravi co-founded the Indian chapter of Thunberg’s Fridays for Future (FFF) campaign, an international movement where students skip school on Fridays to protest inaction on climate change. .
The movement has gained ground in India, with FFF chapters established in more than 40 states. Ravi has been seen regularly at protests and is known to increasingly speak out on the issue and her negative view of Modi’s environmental policies.
Reviews and opposition figures disputed the claim that the toolkit helped incite violence during farmer protests, with the charge of sedition – which can carry a life sentence – raising fears about the future of such movements in India.
Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly called the colonial-era sedition law “draconian” and called for its repeal.
The sedition law is “increasingly used by a democratically elected government in India to target peaceful critics,” Ganguly told NBC News, criticizing what she called its “widespread abuse.”
And data shows that the number of sedition cases has increased since Modi took power in 2014, with prosecutions against prominent figures ranging from authors and journalists to opposition politicians.
“Instead of attacking peaceful criticism of policies or disrespect of rights, authorities have been biased, targeting the critics by accusing them under draconian sedition or anti-terrorism laws and at the same time by failing to prosecute government supporters who engage in violence, ”Ganguly said.
Members of Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Hindu Nationalist Party (BJP), however, defended the use of the law and rejected any suggestions to suppress dissent.
“We are a country that believes in non-violence, but if there are elements that cause and create the conditions that affect the image of this country, this law is still relevant,” said the spokesperson. BJP national speech, Tom Vadakkan, on the BBC.
Ravi’s arrest sparked outrage from prominent figures including lawyer and author Meena Harris, the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris. Some Indian politicians, including members of the main opposition party, have also expressed their anger.
Others see it as an effort to discourage future activism.
Nine-year-old climate activist Licypriya Kangujam told NBC News that the case could “put India in the most dangerous 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 “Greta of India”, was arrested by police last October during a protest against alarming levels of air pollution in Delhi.
But she vowed not to be intimidated and to continue to pressure the government.
“As climate activists, it is our moral obligation to support our farmers,” Kangujam said. “They are already victims of climate change.