The arrest of a 22-year-old climate activist from Bengaluru, Disha Ravi, sparked widespread outrage on Sunday, with politicians, academics, activists, authors and poets among those condemning the police action over a guide to the anti-government farmer protests that was tweeted by environmentalist Greta Thunberg.
Jairam Ramesh, a former minister and lawmaker for the opposition Congress party, called her arrest and detention “completely atrocious” and “unwarranted harassment and intimidation”.
His colleagues in the Congress and those from other opposition parties also spoke out against the move.
“The question is when will those people be arrested who continue to issue a literal ‘toolkit’ to break the national and social unity of India morning and evening, giving rise to hatred and division among the masses,” Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav posted in Hindi.
A coalition of activist groups demanded Ms Ravi’s release and said it was “extremely worried for her safety and well being”.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body spearheading the farmers’ protests that Disha Ravi supported, demanded her immediate release. Condemning Ravi’s arrest, the group said she “stood in support of the farmers”.
“We demand her immediate unconditional release,” it said in the statement.
The tweets also triggered an outpouring of solidarity from prominent individuals on social media, both within and outside India.
Social media platforms have become a major battleground in India, with the government calling on Twitter to block hundreds of accounts that had commented on the recent farmers’ rallies opposing new agriculture laws.
Disha Ravi was arrested on Saturday because, police alleged, she edited an online “toolkit” containing information on the protests that was put out by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in early February on Twitter.
A police statement said Ravi, from southern Bangalore, was a “key conspirator in the document’s formulation and dissemination”.
The toolkit had basic information on the farmers’ demonstrations, as well as how to join the rallies and support the movement online.
Delhi Police said Ravi and her group had “shared” the toolkit with Ms Thunberg.
Disha Ravi was a founder of Fridays For Future India, part of an international protest network established by Thunberg to highlight climate change.
Since late November, farmers have camped on roads leading into the Capital, calling for new agriculture laws to be repealed, in one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government since it came to power in 2014.
The government has reacted with fury to tweets about the protests by celebrities — among them Rihanna and US Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris — calling them “sensationalist”.
Following those posts, on February 5, police launched an investigation into those stirring “disaffection and ill will” against the government.
Delhi Police said on Twitter that Disha Ravi’s group had collaborated with those wanting to create a separate country for Sikhs.
Presented in a court in Delhi on Sunday, she wasn’t accompanied by any of her lawyers and spoke in the courtroom on her own.