Disha Ravi’s case is a clear cut example of the criminalisation of peaceful dissent.
22-year-old Disha Ravi, a climate activist and co-founder of a group named ‘Fridays For Future India’, was arrested for her alleged connection with the Greta Thunberg ‘toolkit’ case. She was taken into custody for circulating a toolkit that was used during the farmer’s protest on 26th of January; the same one that was shared by Greta and other famous figures. Two non-bailable warrants have also been issued against Nikita Jacob and Shantanu, environmental activists from Maharashtra, for preparing the toolkit with Disha Ravi.
As per the police, Disha was the person who edited the toolkit, which was shared by people, including Greta. But Greta was asked to take down the post after it became public. The deleted toolkit claimed to have created “economic, cultural, social and regional tensions” in India, and the Government called the content of the toolkit ‘indiscriminating’.
Disha Ravi, arrested by CyPAD Delhi Police, is an Editor of the Toolkit Google Doc & key conspirator in document’s formulation & dissemination. She started WhatsApp Group & collaborated to make the Toolkit doc. She worked closely with them to draft the Doc. @PMOIndia @HMOIndia https://t.co/e8QGkyDIVv— #DilKiPolice Delhi Police (@DelhiPolice) February 14, 2021
What’s shocking is that Disha Ravi was remanded to five days of police custody without being represented by a counsel. This says a lot about the state of our nation.
According to Article 22(1) of the Indian Constitution, “No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.”
As per sources, Disha had to represent herself before the Magistrate. She denied any claim of being involved in any scheme against the Government. Her words, “I was just supporting farmers. I supported farmers because they are our future and we all need to eat” will echo throughout the nation. All she did was support the farmer’s movement and had no intension of sparking violence.
Over the past few years, youth activists have constantly come under the radar of the Government for doing something that is their right – voice out their opinions. Arrests under the sedition law, threats, internet shutdown, and violence by the state shows us that if you’re not on board with whatever the Government does and says, you’re going to face trouble. A suppression of voice and opinions, in other words. We’ve seen this pattern of hunting down youth protestors and activists in India’s past too. Under the guise of ‘national interest’ and ‘protecting the integrity of the nation’, silencing the youth, who speak about rights violations, has become the norm. It’s almost as though there’s no space to speak up.
In a country like India, peaceful dissent is viewed as anti-national. But what many fail to understand is that dissent is necessary for a democracy. If there is no criticism, there is no progress. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, once said, “The blanket labelling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy”.
Voicing out dissent is a way to engage with authority. But unfortunately, we’ve got a long way to go; from shifting the discourse of dissent as anti-national to viewing it as a seed of progress.