‘Disha Ravi’s arrest shows Centre in panic mode’

Disha Ravi | Photo Credit: ANI
Sonam Saigal Mumbai 20 February 2021 23:03 IST
Updated: 20 February 2021 23:03 IST

Retired bureaucrats, intellectuals say people with anti-government sentiment being misconstrued as anti-national

The arrest of climate change activist Disha Ravi (22) shows that the Central government is panicking and mistaking people with anti-government sentiment to be anti-national, according to retired bureaucrats and intellectuals.

They criticised the arrest of the Bengaluru youth by the Delhi Police on February 13 for allegedly sharing with Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg a toolkit on the farmers’ protest against the Centre’s new farm laws.

“They [Centre] seem threatened by her. The Delhi Police wants to say this girl has taken help from Poetic Justice Foundation [a Canada-based outfit alleged to be pro-Khalistani] to prepare the toolkit, which was edited by her and two others [lawyer Nikita Jacob and activist Shantanu Muluk]. So, where is the question of her being a Khalistani?” asked Padma Bhushan awardee Julio Ribeiro, who played a key role in quelling the Khalistan movement during his tenure as the Director General of Punjab Police.


The Delhi Police’s attempt to show that the toolkit led to the violence in Delhi on Republic Day was “ridiculous”, said Mr. Ribeiro, who is part of Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), an association of about 300 ex-bureaucrats.

The Delhi Police claims that Ms. Ravi was in touch with pro-Khalistani sympathisers and helped prepare a Google document, which was tweeted and then deleted by Ms. Thunberg. The police said Ms. Ravi deleted her WhatsApp messages to Ms. Thunberg as she was aware of their legal implication.

Retired Indian Police Service officer Meeran Borwankar, also part of CCG, said youth by definition are “radical and revolutionary” and should not be viewed as “violent or anti-nationals”. She said police officers should engage and partner with the youth instead of alienating them. “She [Ms. Ravi] should have been advised to join the investigation. If concrete evidence emerged that is criminal in nature, then her arrest would have been justified,” said Mrs. Borwankar, the first woman to serve as Pune Police Commissioner and Mumbai Crime Branch chief.

Vappala Balachandran, former additional secretary, cabinet secretariat, highlighted the importance of NGOs in a democracy. He said, “The present world is a global village. There is a shared perspective of democracies. The role of NGOs in a society is to scrutinise government policies. NGOs have a legal right to point out that they don’t agree with these laws and policies.”

‘Not a war on India’

Mr. Balachandran said Ms. Ravi was expressing solidarity with the protesting farmers and was in touch with Ms. Thunberg and a foreign NGO. However, her role is being construed as a conspiracy. “This is not a war on our country,” he added.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising said toolkits are not illegal or unconstitutional, but a measure adopted by all protest movements. She said, “To hold demonstrations outside an embassy is part of the fundamental right. To demonstrate for a just cause does not make you an anti-national. They [the Delhi Police] are confusing anti-national and anti-government. Opposing a policy of the government does not make you anti-national.”

Writer Ganesh Devy, who returned his Sahitya Akademi Award to protest the attack on writers in 2015, said that the Centre is nervous. “Farmers have been protesting for almost three months. Our farmers have made our country. The agitation is real and it can’t be taken away. The use of draconian provisions of law [Ms. Ravi has been booked for sedition] reflect that the government is panicking, nervous, and suspicious,” Mr. Devy said.

Renowned documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan said the Centre was feeling threatened by the protesting farmers and this snowballed into a desperate move of arresting Ms. Ravi. “We have become a laughing stock for reacting to a tweet by Rihanna and Greta. This just reveals the government is insecure,” he said.

Writer Githa Hariharan said instead of being scared, India should be proud of youths like Ms. Ravi. “They are the hope for our country. We must learn from young people like Disha Ravi to engage with issues that affect people’s lives, whether it is climate change or farmers’ protests,” she said.