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Catholics fearful over 'hounding' of young Indian activists

All India Catholic Union criticizes arrest of Disha Ravi for allegedly inciting violence at farmers' tractor rally

Catholics fearful over 'hounding' of young Indian activists

Members of the Indian Youth Congress hold pictures of activist Disha Ravi in Chennai on Feb. 18 after her arrest by Delhi police for her alleged involvement in the instigation of violence during a farmers' protest. (Photo: AFP)

A Catholic forum has joined activists, lawyers and political leaders to condemn the arrest of young climate change and environmental activists in India.

It followed the arrest of environmentalist Disha Ravi for her alleged involvement with the “toolkit” case being investigated by the federal government in relation to the Jan. 26 tractor rally violence in New Delhi.

The 22-year-old was apprehended from her residence in Bengaluru on Feb. 14 by Delhi police.

“The All India Catholic Union is deeply distressed and extremely worried by the hounding of young climate change and environment activists in the country,” AICU national president Lancy D. Cunha said a Feb. 18 statement.

“What makes it more critical is that this form of persecution comes from both state and non-state actors, and at a time when the nation is struggling to come out of the medical and economic catastrophe of Covid and the crisis in agriculture as reflected in the strike by the country’s farmers.”

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The AICU believes that a vibrant civil society is vital to the overall health of the nation, its plural heritage and its constitutional guarantees, Cunha said, stressing the importance of defending freedom of faith, expression and fraternity.

He said that “any action by governments and others that erodes any of these freedoms seriously impacts every group, especially religious minorities.”

AICU spokesperson John Dayal said Ravi was accused of sharing a Google advocacy document toolkit inviting solidarity with the Indian farmers' protests. It was shared by noted Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

Authorities investigating the case believe that this toolkit was partly behind the violence at the tractor rally.

The rally got out of control when protesting farmers clashed with police, resulting in the death of one farmer and injuries to several more.

Farmers who have been protesting at the border of the national capital for more than two months says that new laws will deprive them of minimum support prices that the government assures them for their produce.

But the federal government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, are measures to reform the farm sector.

The laws permit the winding up of government-assisted marketing systems, contract farming and multinational investments in the farming sector.

Police claim that Ravi has links with the Canada-based Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), which allegedly supports the Khalistan movement seeking to create a sovereign state for Sikhs in the Punjab region. They say she has deleted a WhatsApp group and chats that discussed these issues.

Authorities have pointed toward allegedly seditionist and pro-Khalistan content in the toolkit.

Meanwhile, according to a media report, a first information report (FIR) says that the toolkit “contains a detailed plan of a large conspiracy to wage an economic, social, cultural and regional war against India.”

Former Supreme Court judge Deepak Gupta said he has seen the toolkit but it contains nothing about violence or inciting people.

Parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, a senior Congress party leader, said Ravi’s arrest was a sign of the center’s increasing sense of dread.

“How can a 22-year-old destabilize a government? Such incidents are a shame to Indian democracy,” he said.

A statement by the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India and other civil society activists and citizens said that the country should be proud of Ravi, who is the latest victim of the efforts to delegitimize the farmers’ protest and the nationwide solidarity it has generated.

The government's heavy-handedness is clearly focused on terrorizing and traumatizing brave young people for speaking truth to power, the Feb. 16 statement said.

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