Indian activist’s arrest spotlights crackdown on dissent

NEW DELHI (AP) — To her friends, Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old Indian climate activist, was most concerned about her future in a world of rising temperatures.

But her life changed last month when she became a household name in India, dominating headlines after police charged her with sedition, a colonial-era law that carries a sentence up to life in prison.

Her alleged crime: sharing an online handbook meant to raise support for months-long farmer protests on Twitter. “If highlighting farmers’ protest globally is sedition, I am better (off) in jail,” she said in court two weeks ago.

She was released after 10 days in custody. Her mother told reporters in Ravi’s hometown of Bengaluru that the case “has reinforced our faith in the system”, and called her daughter strong and brave.

Going after activists isn’t new in India, but Ravi’s saga has stoked fear and anxiety. Observers said what happened to Ravi — a young, middle class, urban woman — hit home for a lot of Indians, who suddenly feared they could be jailed for sharing something on social media. Criminal lawyers also point to a troubling frequency in the way sedition is invoked. Many said checks and balances employed by lower courts, often overwhelmed with cases, are fading.

The incident has raised questions over India’s democracy, with critics decrying it as the latest attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist government to mute dissent and criminalise it.

Students hold placards demanding the release of Indian climate activist Disha Ravi, during a protest in Bengaluru, India. PHOTO: AP