In their editorials, leading English newspapers joined the chorus of voices in support of climate activist Disha Ravi, who was arrested by the Delhi police on Sunday. The papers minced no words in denouncing the actions of the central government and the Delhi police, and emphasised that Ravi's arrest was an attempt to send out a "message".
Ravi was arrested from Bengaluru for "sharing and editing” a toolkit put out by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg to mobilise support for the ongoing farmer protests in India.
Here are some of the editorials in English language papers.
The Indian Express
TheIn its editorial, headlined "Toolkit justice", Express said the Delhi police had "weaponised what is a typical advocacy document" while the central government is "is ratcheting up rhetoric of a shadowy international conspiracy" in the context of the farmer protests. It accused the Centre of "sending out a chilling message": "you can speak out and talk back to your government at your own peril".
The Hindu described the arrests of Ravi and other activists as "perverse and high-handed".
"The police in India, and especially forces under the present regime, have a dubious record of effecting needless arrests and filing questionable cases as a tool of harassment," it said. "The Delhi Police have outdone all of them by arresting a 22-year-old climate activist in a case that makes the incredible allegation that a social media toolkit for organisers of protests against the farm laws amounted to sedition and incitement to riots."
The editorial pointed out that the Delhi police had taken Ravi into custody in Bengaluru in violation of guidelines for inter-state arrests. "The regime is more likely to attract international embarrassment and opprobrium by the indiscriminate use of police power against activists, protesters and the media," it said. "The state is increasingly resorting to heavy-handed responses to issues that attract a convergence of activism, opposition political activity and adverse media scrutiny."
In its editorial today, Deccan Chronicle wrote: "In order to understand the maliciousness, indeed the enormity, of what the Indian State has done by arresting Ms Ravi (and two others), making itself a laughingstock among democracies, it is important to be aware that this so-called 'toolkit' is not a handbook of terrorism. In fact it’s no more than guidelines on ways to propagate the farmers’ cause through the social media, and is a common expression among activists of all kinds. Indeed, it’s no more than what the Hindutva brigade, including the ruling party, have been doing."
It warned that Ravi's arrest was an indication that the government is "running out of ideas", and that the Delhi police is "degenerating into becoming the praetorian guard of the government in power".
Bengaluru-based Deccan Herald also emphasised that a "toolkit" is a routine document used in protests, not "something sinister". It described Ravi's arrest as "yet another action on the part of the government against anyone who opposes its policies".
The paper says her arrest follows a well-established pattern, where ministers, party officials, and "a large troll army...orchestrate propaganda to justify the witch-hunt and make it look like a 'patriots vs anti-nationals' issue".
The message to citizens is "as clear as it is brazenly authoritarian", the editorial added, "no-one should protest against or oppose the government and its actions...Citizens can exercise their right to free speech and protest only on pain of harassment and loss of freedom."
In its editorial "The hunt", the Telegraph said the crux of the matter is India's "changing relationship with the constituency of politically engaged dissenters".
Citing the arrest of comedian Munawar Faruqui and the host of arrests and detentions during the Delhi riots and the citizenship law protests, it said: "It is a matter of deep concern when a robust democracy refuses to engage with the concerns expressed by the youth and punishes them, instead, for their courage to question. This kind of intimidation is a testament to the paranoia among the powers that be, a distrust that is having damaging consequences for Indian democracy."
The New Indian Express
"Disha Ravi is not Mata Hari," said the New Indian Express, slightly bizarrely referring to the woman executed for espionage during World War 1. "Whisking away a 21-year-old girl from Bengaluru in secrecy, and responding to her wish for a better planet with sedition charges, is not going to ennoble India."
The newspaper said the Delhi police needs to be "more careful", because "an over-the-top crackdown will only scream out to the world that there is a deficit of democracy in India".
The newspaper, in its editorial, asked how Ravi's arrest syncs "with India’s constitutional guarantees on free speech and political activity".
Questioning the role of the state and the judiciary, it said: "Courts must treat cases involving personal liberty with more rigour, rather than casually send people to jail when bail should be the norm."
Yet Hindustan Times also chose to question "the role of the activists", stating: "Dissent is indeed a right, and taking up positions — even if they are logically inconsistent (how environmental activists stand in support of the ecologically unsustainable practices of Punjab’s farmers is a mystery) — is also a right. But often, activists end up getting used in larger political games."
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