On Saturday, February 13th, 21 year old climate activist and founder of the Fridays for Future India chapter, Disha Ravi, was arrested and placed in custody by Delhi Police, on charges of “spreading disaffection against the Indian state”.
Ravi’s crime: editing and sharing a Fridays for Future ‘toolkit’ Google doc, on understanding the farmers’ protest that has been sweeping and affecting the nation. In other words, it’s a crime to be a politically and civically conscious, young woman in what is somehow unironically and proudly touted as the world’s largest “democracy”.
Ravi isn’t the first young activist or civilian participating in political and social matters to be arrested and/or charged with sedition. Before her, we witnessed Sharjeel Imam, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Safoora Zagar among others charged for similar reasons and taken into custody for their involvement in the anti-CAA protests. Very recently, it was Nodeep Kaur – a 24 year old Dalit labour rights activist and member of a union supporting the farmers protests – who was arrested for her involvement in a workers protest in Haryana. All of them, guilty of exercising their right to dissent and voice their opinions as citizens (even if second or third class) of a democratic country.
As someone who was raised in a monarchic state and who then went on to do their higher education somewhere they weren’t a citizen at a time where they were only just developing any sort of a political conscience, I thought moving back to “my own country” – the one where I hold a passport from, the one where no one could tell me I didn’t have a stake in improving – was a sign. A sign that I could finally participate, protest and involve myself without feeling like an imposter or believing I was neglecting a whole other community and its set of issues that were perhaps more pertinent to me.
Ravi’s arrest comes as such a blow to that. Not in the earth-shattering way, because for that you’d have to buy into the thinly veiled attempt at democracy that the fascist state intentionally fails at. But in the heartbreaking way, because you are now so sure that at every single turn the state will try to break your spirit, it will try to disaffect you – whether you’re a farmer expressing valid grievances about a bill that will prioritise profits over your livelihood or a 21 year old, dedicated champion for the actual promise of a tomorrow that no one else seems to care about.
I can understand if people are discouraged by this. My parents surely weren’t too happy to hear about it – something about the condition of Indian jails. And maybe selfishly, we can’t really protest or say it louder for the people who refuse to hear us if we aren’t around to actually do so. Self-preservation is important. I just don’t want to accept that this is how things are going to be, as much as I have to tirelessly talk myself out of holding on to the hope that things will change.
I hope to go to a Fridays for Future protest, or any other clean-up or rally Disha (if she so chooses) and those like her organise. I, and especially the people I am in solidarity with, embody too much of what this state tries every day to suppress for me to not even show up. And show up we must, whatever that looks like – it just has to look like something bigger than you.