A 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested on Saturday evening and remanded to judicial custody for five days. The allegation: She distributed a “toolkit” in the form of a Google Doc containing talking points and contact information for influential groups to drum up support for farmers who have been protesting against the government's farm laws for months now.
The arrest, the latest in a series of broader crackdowns on activists, has triggered anger and disbelief among Opposition politicians, student groups and lawyers, who say the government is using its law enforcement agencies to increasingly stifle dissent, in line with a broader deterioration of free speech in India. Ravi’s arrest, they said, has raised the crackdown to a new level.
But how did it all start? Here's how the events unravelled after Greta Thunberg’s 'toolkit' tweet:
To begin with, for months, thousands of farmers, from the agricultural heartland state of Punjab, have been camping out on the outskirts of New Delhi, protesting a slate of new laws that they feel will dismantle a subsidy system that has for decades protected them from the vagaries of the free market.
The protests had been largely peaceful. However, on Republic Day, as Modi watched a military parade in central Delhi, farmers streamed into the city, removing barricades using tractors during a rally. Clashes with police left dozens injured. One farmer was killed when his tractor flipped over.
The Republic Day protests by farmers and their clash with the Delhi Police garnered a social media storm with international personalities like Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeting about it.
However, Greta Thunberg’s tweet was the one that was under the spotlight because she shared a link to the “toolkit,” which Indian authorities say was proof the young Swedish activist is part of an international conspiracy against India. She subsequently deleted the tweet, saying it was outdated, and tweeted another one.
The document that she deleted contained various urgent actions, including creating a "Twitter storm" and protesting outside Indian embassies, which were required to be taken to support the farmers' protest.
How did the government react?
Reactions from the Foreign Ministry, Opposition started pouring in following her tweet. The ruling party and its supporters claimed Thunberg had unwittingly exposed the "conspiracy" to defame India.
The government also drummed up support from celebrities from the sports and Bollywood industry, who slammed the comments made on India's "internal matter", which 'dented' the country's sovereignty. The hashtags "#IndiaTogether" and "#IndiaAgainstPropaganda" were also used in the tweets posted by Indian celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar and Suniel Shetty.
Soon after that, Delhi Police registered a case to probe "international conspiracy" to defame India and promote enmity among groups following the farmers' protest and cited tweets by teen climate campaigner Greta Thunberg in the FIR.
Centre’s rift with Twitter
The government and Twitter were at loggerheads after the government asked the social media site to remove over 1,400 accounts for spreading “misinformation” and “provocative” content on farmers’ agitation. According to the government, these accounts were handled by Khalistanis and pro-Pakistanis and used to provoke protesting farmers.
The government had first asked Twitter to remove some 250 tweets. At first, Twitter blocked them, but then later unblocked them, citing free speech.
But after the government’s warning to Twitter, it blocked 1,400 accounts out of 1,435 accounts related to farmers' protest, which the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked to block.
Delhi Police seek details of 'toolkit'
After the ‘toolkit’ started gaining more attention, the Delhi Police asked Google and some social media giants to provide information about email IDs, URLs and certain social media accounts related to the creators of a "toolkit” shared by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and others on Twitter in connection with the farmers’ protest.
The police said that the original document would help the investigators in identifying the creators of the "toolkit" and the person who has shared it. The document in question was created, edited and pushed by certain people and it is important to identify them since there is an “element of conspiracy”, a police officer said.
Initial investigation suggested the document's link with a pro-Khalistan group, named ''Poetic Justice Foundation''.
Arrests made in ‘toolkit’ case
On Sunday, Ravi was the first person to be arrested in the ‘toolkit’ case. The police claimed that she sent the ‘toolkit to teen climate activist Thunberg through the Telegram app, and also "coaxed her to act on it".
Police claimed that Thunberg deleted the tweet following Disha's request and later, shared an edited version of the document. They also claimed that the edits were made by 22-year-old Disha.
Police claimed that Disha wrote this to Thunberg on WhatsApp: "Okay can you not tweet the toolkit at all. Can we just not say anything at all for a while. I am gonna talk to lawyers. I am sorry but our names are on it and we can literally get UAPA against us."
Apart from Disha, non-bailable warrants have been issued against lawyer Nikita Jacob and engineer Shantanu Muluk, who are absconding.
Opposition term Disha Ravi’s arrest as ‘illegal’
Delhi Police on Monday came under criticism for the "illegal" arrest of Disha Ravi in the toolkit case, with lawyers and activist groups claiming that investigators and the Duty Magistrate violated norms and procedures.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi led the Opposition offensive following Ravi’s arrest and said the country will not be silenced.
Among other political leaders, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also came out in public against Disha's arrest, saying it was an "unprecedented attack on democracy". “Arrest of 21-year-old Disha Ravi is an unprecedented attack on Democracy. Supporting our farmers is not a crime,” Kejriwal tweeted.
The CPI(M) Polit Bureau described Disha's arrest as an "atrocious action which deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms". Disha is charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy on the absurd grounds that she had forwarded a “toolkit” in support of the farmers' protest, it said.