“If highlighting farmers’ protest globally is sedition, I am better [off] in jail.”
This is one of the most powerful sentences spoken by an Indian in this century. Powerful, courageous and honest. Even more heartening is the fact that this comes from a 22-year-old young woman. She must have been told by her lawyers what implications the charge of sedition can have for her. Even an indication of being involved in the activities deemed seditious can jeopardise your life, if not forever then at least for a very painful, long time.
When with this knowledge, Disha Ravi, the youngster from Karnataka, a fellow of all Indians and a truly world citizen ‒ for her vocabulary is climatic, not bound by the boundaries of nations ‒ decides to make this statement, it frees language from the fear that has crippled it in India. It has been corrupted and corroded by falsehood and the cruelty of the powerful. It was therefore refreshing to see a lawyer facing all this with the power of simple truthfulness.
One must thank her and her lawyer Siddharth Agrawal. For bringing the force of truthfulness to the act of lawyering. Reading the arguments and assertions of Disha Ravi, represented by her counsel Siddharth Agrawal, my heart leapt in joy. As a teacher and student of literature, I found it life-giving. That is what we expect prose to be.
Calling things by their name is the job of prose, Ralph Fox had told us. Poet Kedar Nath Singh warned that words die not from cold but from fear. To liberate prose from fear is the greatest feat one can achieve in our times.
Ravi does not evade, does not dodge, does not go around in circles. She accepts that she had a role in creating awareness and support for the farmers’ movement internationally. Is it a crime? Is it against India? If the farmers are agitating publicly, how does garnering support for them becomes an “anti-India” act?
What is the ‘conspiracy’?
How does creating a “toolkit” ‒ in other words, a document enlisting ways to bring world attention to the cause of the protesting farmers ‒ become a “conspiracy”? How does a call to do a ‘digital strike’ against the farm laws be construed as a call for physical violent strikes? As her lawyer argued:
“The toolkit talks about digital strike, this doesn’t mean the Gulf Strike. Physical action called for in Embassies, Ambani, Adani offices – doesn’t mean throwing stones. These are tools for people to express their feelings across the globe.”
Ravi accepts that she was part of a peaceful protest against the recently enacted farm laws. But is that sedition? She asked, “If the offence is that I protested peacefully, I’m guilty! If the offence is that I advertised about this peaceful protest, I’m guilty. If this is the parameter, I am definitely guilty.”
Agrawal also played on the frontfoot: “If I say that sir there is a rally being organized, please go and participate in that rally. Will that make me seditious today?”
She points out the absurdity of the allegations of the Delhi police: “For instance, if there is yoga. And I prefer kung fu over yoga. Will I become a chinese spy? I’m not saying this. It’s in their FIR. We’re reducing the bar of someone having a different point of view.”
One wishes that we had this clarity of thought. Then we could have asked if watching Pakistani TV serials or being a fan of Fawad Khan makes you a Pakistani spy. Does raising the slogan ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, even if not appended by the slogans ‘Bharat Zindabad’, make Amulya Leona become a seditious act? Can I not wish a long life for a nation which is not mine?
Disha Ravi claims her right to protest against a move by the government which she believes ‒ on the basis of her knowledge and her work on the issue of climate change ‒ are harmful not only for the farming community but for the whole nation. The Delhi Police has been challenged by this young woman to gather the courage to be truthful about its real intent.
She points out that the movement has been going on for more than two months. The movement is public and open. The Republic Day march was very much in the knowledge of the police and allowed by it. The incidents of violence need to be investigated and 149 people are being probed. More would be, if the need arises. But how can the ‘toolkit’ be held responsible for the violence?
The court rightly kept asking the state if there is any evidence of a direct link between the content of the “toolkit” and the January 26 violence. Or, is it merely a conjecture?
Agrawal, in this serious and tense exchange, did create a light moment when he said: “Jiska koi nahin hota uska conspiracy hota hai.” (If you don’t have any evidence against someone, you can book them for conspiracy.) This has become the dictum of the current dispensation of the Indian state.
What Disha Ravi is doing through her lawyer is to give strength to those anti-CAA protesters who have been falsely implicated by the Delhi Police in yet another conspiracy, allegedly aimed at tarnishing the image of India and creating disaffection against the elected government.
Disha says that she has a right to protest against the farm laws. Devangana Kalita, Ishrat Jahan, Gulfisha Fatima, Natasha Narwal and Safoora Zargar had a right to protest against the CAA. If the courts think that these are seditious acts, they would prefer jail over the phoney freedom that all of us are breathing outside the Tihar, Mandoli or Tajola jails.
On the morning after the arguments in the court of Judge Dharmendra Rana, I opened the newspapers with the hope that they would have Ravi’s brave defence as their banner headline. That was not to be. The force of the sentence was reduced while reporting it. That shows that our society, the society of the well-heeled is not yet ready to respond to the call of its young.
The sentence hangs in the air. A challenge to the judicial conscience of this country. Let us see how it reacts to it. Or if it proves itself worthy and honourable in the eyes of the truthful young.