How Disha Ravi came to join Greta Thunberg’s climate justice cause

The young activist has been arrested by the Delhi police for editing a toolkit put out by the Swedish activist to mobilise support for the farmer protests.

ByBarkha Kumari
How Disha Ravi came to join Greta Thunberg’s climate justice cause
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Activist Disha Ravi, 21, has been charged by the Delhi police as a “conspirator” in the creation and dissemination of a toolkit shared by the Swedish climate advocate Greta Thunberg to mobilise support for the farmer protests. The police have alleged that the toolkit contributed to the violence that erupted during the tractor rally organised by protesting farmers on January 26. For people who know her, this is hard to believe.

Disha's arrest on the charges of sedition, hatching a criminal conspiracy, and promoting enmity has left these people angry and hurt. Yet, they cannot express their displeasure openly, fearing state reprisals. This is why several of Disha’s teachers and classmates at Mount Carmel College, where she graduated from, and her fellow campaigners refused to speak on the record.

‘Every eco-conscious youth in Bengaluru knows her’

Disha broke onto the climate justice scene in 2019 as one of the early members of a volunteer group that organised the Fridays For Future, or FFF, protests in Bengaluru. The FFF is a global youth movement started by Thunberg to demand climate justice from policymakers.

Disha has been portrayed in the media as a founder of the FFF’s Bengaluru chapter but people in the know said the movement is leaderless and non-hierarchical. Disha was merely one of the many volunteers mobilising support for the cause, they added. She wrote articles on climate and got featured in the British edition of Vogue as one of the four climate activists of colour in September last year.

“Any youngster in Bengaluru who is into environmental activism has probably heard of Disha. She would turn up for all protests – against animal cruelty, tree felling, farmers’ movement, and climate justice,” said an activist in Bengaluru who collaborated with her last year when he joined the Extinction Rebellion Bangalore, a forum for environmental conservation, as a volunteer.

“She has good organising abilities and leadership skills, she’s resourceful, and quite a planner. The next FFF global strike is coming up in March and Disha’s team has been planning for it since January,” he added.

He recalled his meetings with her over Zoom and on the ground for banner-dropping against the Karnataka Road Development Corporation’s road-widening project and to protest against the Karnataka Land Reforms Amendment Act, 2020.

Her friends have said that Disha’s foray into the climate justice movement was triggered by personal experience. She saw her grandparents struggle through droughts, floods and soil deterioration to continue farming. She saw her home, located in the low-lying suburb of Abbigere in Bengaluru, get flooded after rains.

A volunteer at clean-up drives in Bengaluru much older to Disha said he has seen her grow from an entry-level activist. “I first met her at a clean-up drive in 2018 and she kept showing up at drives thereafter. Then in 2019, when FFF was planning to participate in the global strike in Bengaluru, she was part of the organising team of volunteers. She stuck around when many volunteers dropped off. That’s the thing about Disha. She’s been consistent and that says something about her genuine interest in environmental justice.”

‘Bold and outspoken’

S Rajkumar, head of department, BBA, Mount Carmel College, remembers Disha as a bold student who got along with everybody. “She got into a marketing company related to vegan products, probably giving her an entry into the network of environment activism,” he said.

A teacher in the department remembered having “constructive discussions” with Disha about the environment. “I am pained to hear the news about her. I pray for her and her family because legal issues take time. She is such a lively girl,” she said.

Disha’s family have been advised by her lawyers to not speak to the media.

This is not Disha and FFF’s first run-in with the Indian state. Last July, the Indian government censored the group for raising concerns about the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 by having their website blocked. It even faced action under the anti-terror law UAPA. The website was restored after public backlash.

Note: A previous version of the article stated Disha has a sister. That is incorrect and has been rectified. We regret the error.

Melvin Mathew contributed reporting.

Barkha Kumari is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

Also Read : 'Malicious, perverse, paranoid': Newspaper editorials unite in condemning Disha Ravi's arrest
Also Read : 'I was just supporting farmers': Activist held for sharing farmer protests toolkit says she did no wrong
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