Climate Activist Granted Bail as Environmental Guru is Remembered

The fine work of the EcoSikh organization (which also lead a campaign to plant gardens of trees in honor of the 550th in...

Ten years ago the 'Guruship Day' (Gurgaddi Divas) of Siri Guru Har Rai happened on March 14th (this year it will be April 9th). Due to the fine work of the organization EcoSikh (which also led a campaign to plant gardens of trees in honor of the 550th incarnation remembrance of Guru Nanak) we are blessed with the establishment of a new Sikh holiday: Sikh Vatavaran Divas (Sikh Environment day) to be celebrated every year. Ratified by the SGPC the new holiday is particularly appropriate given the attention to nature given by Guru Har Rai. Today marks the celebration for the 391st birthday (Prakash Divas) of the gentle warrior Guru (great great is Siri Guru Har Rai Sahib!) 

Guru Har Rai was known for his tender feelings after he accidentally harmed a flower as a child. Later as Guru, king of kings, he collected rare herbs among his impressive greenhouse of medicine, tended to animals, opened a free health care center, had fruit trees planted and inspired Sikhs to create gardens.

In modern times it's not hard to see how such teachings and inspirations would apply. There is an endless list of preservation causes to bring us back to balance and harmony. For one climate activist in India it was participating in campaigns for the welfare of elephants, preserving biodiversity in Goa, protesting logging, protecting endangered turtles and doing away with plastic nationally. These are some of the causes taken on by a young woman, 22 years old, named Disha Ravi. Her friends describe her as, "fun-loving and passionate about environmental causes" who is "focused on conservation". 

Just as reasonable as it would seem to advocate for these such causes it is equally unreasonable that she was arrested and charged with sedition.

It has been alleged that she helped author a protest 'toolkit' which was shared online by Swedish activist Great Thunberg in support of the #FarmersProtest. What was in the toolkit? Plans on how to influence online conversation with the use of hashtags.

As explained by 'The News Minute': 

A ‘toolkit’ is a Google document or Word document often used to organise a social media campaign or to plan protests. A toolkit contains basic information on any issue, tweet suggestions and information on what hashtags to use, whom to tag on social media, etc. These documents are regularly used by various individuals and groups, including political parties, to organise social media campaigns and mobilise crowds.

While it is generous to say it is a stretch that such a thing could be construed as 'seditious' Disha Ravi may not have even authored it! In her words, "I did not make the toolkit. We wanted to support the farmers. I edited two lines on February 3."

While government officials argue that a protest toolkit inspires anti-national sentiment and indirectly leads to violence... the act of imprisoning a young woman for her minimal and indirect involvement with a civil protest is not exactly supporting the narrative of a state wishing to uphold peace. Such actions are clearly authoritarian and people all over the world see it for what it is: a desperate attack on free speech.

Disha was arrested on Feb 13th, was granted a "personal bond of ₹1 lakh and two sureties of similar amounts" on Feb 23rd due to the Delhi court finding police evidence "scanty and sketchy". Yesterday the Hindustan Times reported on the judge's ruling: 

• It asserted that citizens could not be jailed simply because they disagreed with government policies.

• The judge held that Ravi had no connection with pro-Khalistani organisations, Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), and Sikhs for Justice, and that there was not an “iota” of evidence linking her to the violence that rocked Delhi on Republic Day.

• The judge said the 22-year-old was with absolutely blemish-free criminal antecedents and has firm roots in the society.

• The court also said the call for any kind of violence was conspicuously absent from the toolkit, and no evidence was on record to suggest Ravi subscribed to secessionist ideas.

• Activists have repeatedly said the toolkit is an innocuous document used by social media campaigns for strategy and planning.

• The judge said citizens are the conscience-keepers of the government in any democratic nation.

• He added they cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies.

• The judge said the offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the government.

• Police said Ravi, along with two other activists, created the toolkit to spread misinformation and incite unrest as part of a global conspiracy.

• The court rejected the police’s argument and said it could not be presumed on “surmises or conjectures” that Ravi supported secessionist tendencies or violence, simply because she shared a platform with people who gathered to oppose the farm laws.

• The court said the right to dissent is enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution. It added the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience.

• The court said there are no geographical barriers on communication.

• It added a citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the law and as such have access to the audience abroad.

As Sikhs we do not rely on, or beg from, government authorities to grant us freedom. Rather we seek to create humane society everywhere by being rooted in moral values like sharing and working hard. However we do invoke our Gurus for the liberty of the oppressed.

Bless those gentle souls who seek to honor 'mata dharat'; mother earth. May their efforts be successful and hard work bear the greatest result. In the name of Guru Nanak and Guru Har Rai, with good will towards all (sarbat da bhala), may such courageous souls be freed and exonerated in this world and the next. 

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Related article: Nodeep Kaur Punished After Winning Wages for Laborers NOW RELEASED
 

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