Inspired by the teenaged activist Greta Thunberg, Indian environmentalist Disha Ravi has campaigned against climate change, led tree-planting drives and fought development projects in fragile ecosystems. Ravi, 22, is now being held in a New Delhi jail on suspicion of sedition, a crime punishable by life in prison. Her alleged misdeed: collaborating with Thunberg on a social media campaign to support Indian farmers opposed to new agricultural marketing laws.
Ravi’s detention last weekend, for what New Delhi police claim is an “international conspiracy” against India, reflects the increasingly aggressive tactics that the government of prime minister Narendra Modi is prepared to employ against dissent, as it confronts growing public resistance.It has sent shockwaves through India’s expanding network of young environmental activists, and stoked anxiety among parents about the price their children could pay for speaking out.
“Her arrest is certainly disheartening for all of us,” said Joel Kyndiah, 18, an activist from the town of Shillong. “We’ve always been peaceful and democratic in how we pursue the problem of climate change. ” Critics said the arrest reflects the government’s particular antipathy towards young campaigners — especially educated, tech savvy and globally connected youth who talk about issues that resonate internationally such as the environment.
“The youth don’t show fear and the government doesn’t like that,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, 53, an activist with the Chennai Solidarity Group, an environmental justice collective. “They think young people should study, work hard and obey, not question the state. ” The Modi government set its sights on environmentalists soon after taking power, after an intelligence bureau report — leaked to the public — called foreign-funded NGOs “tools” of western governments seeking to thwart India’s economic progress.
In 2015, an Indian campaigner for Greenpeace was barred from flying out of the country to London, where she was to speak publicly about a planned coal mine in a sensitive forest area. Greenpeace India’s bank accounts were frozen.