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22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi has recently become the face of India’s ongoing farmer protests. She had been for over three years a prominent environmental campaigner, but she’s now been arrested at her home in Bengaluru and charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy by Delhi authorities. In a defiant message, Ravi made clear that there were no seditious motives behind the “toolkit” for protests that has been widely shared, simply saying: “I supported the farmers because they are our future and we all need to eat.”
It’s becoming an increasingly familiar story that environmental and climate activists are now fearful of – that governments are no longer tolerating dissent of any form, whether it be pressure from campaigners to protect nature and take action on the biggest planetary threat today, or fighting for the livelihoods of farmers who produce the very food we eat.
In the case of India’s farmers, they have been protesting against three farm acts passed by the Indian parliament in September 2020, which would discontinue subsidies that many rely on to keep their businesses afloat. India’s farmers have already been suffering from intensifying environmental risks like drought, floods, and other unpredictable weather patterns that have made crop failure and yield gaps increasingly common in recent years.
My motivation to join climate activism came from seeing my grandparents, who are farmers, struggle with the effects of the climate crisis.Disha Ravi
Ravi is now being accused of coordinating an international conspiracy against India, related to a “toolkit” document connected to India’s farmer protests. As the granddaughter of farmers herself, the 22-year-old climate activist has been speaking out in support of the protesters’ cause, which she sees as clearly intertwined with her passion to protect the planet, as well as the people who live on it.
“My motivation to join climate activism came from seeing my grandparents, who are farmers, struggle with the effects of the climate crisis,” Ravi said in a previous interview back in 2019.
The toolkit itself that got Ravi into trouble simply contained information, hashtags, ideas and contacts of people who are supporting the movement. It had recently garnered international attention after Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg tweeted her support. In her court hearing on Sunday (February 14), Ravi said she had only edited two lines of the toolkit, and that there were no seditious motives against the Indian government.
Speaking about the arrest of Ravi, fellow environmental activist in Bengaluru, Leo Saldhana, is concerned about the heavy-handed pattern that authorities are showing against dissent.
If you ask difficult questions or decide to do something for a good cause, you can be sent to jail. For something as harmless as a toolkit.Yuvan Aves
“This government of India is attacking environmental activists and Disha’s arrest shows there is a clear, deeply worrying pattern. The point here is to destabilise and then erase all dissent,” Saldhana told the Guardian.
It’s likely that Ravi has been targeted by authorities because of her outspoken approach that sees the environmental as the political. In another interview with the Guardian last year, the 22-year-old criticised Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s coronavirus rebuilding plan, pointing out that it did little to alleviate the economic burden the pandemic has on the grassroots sections of society and largely ignored climate change, which too disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in society.
“We are not just fighting for our future, we are fighting for our present. We, the people from the most affected are going to change the conversation in climate negotiations and lead a just recovery plan that benefits people and not the pockets of our government,” she said.
Since her arrest, a number of prominent figures have stood beside the young activist, expressing outrage at the government’s approach. Jairan Ramesh, the former environment minister, described her detention as “completely atrocious”.
Yuvan Aves, another young climate campaigner aligned with the Fridays for Future movement, said that the message from Ravi’s arrest is clear. “If you ask difficult questions or decide to do something for a good cause, you can be sent to jail. For something as harmless as a toolkit.”
Lead image courtesy of Disha Ravi Twitter.