First of all, let us look at the specifics of the case. On February 4, teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg had tweeted in support of Indian farmers. She tweeted a toolkit that asked for activists around the world to protest against the Indian government both online and offline in a coordinated manner. There was some evidence to suggest that groups linked to the Khalistan movement were linked to this toolkit. The Delhi Police promptly registered an FIR against unknown persons. After more than a week of investigation the police managed to track down some activists involved in the case. While Bengaluru-based Disha Ravi was arrested on February 13, and remanded to five days of police custody, two other activists have also come under the ambit of the investigation and it is reported that non-bailable warrants have been issued for their arrests.
Given the political overtones of the farmers’ protests, Disha Ravi’s arrest and the probe against two of her alleged associates have sparked protests from the political class and civil society. The Delhi Police is facing flak for implicating activists in this case and the usual questions about freedom of speech, the right to protest and the general health of our democracy are being asked. Have the Delhi Police gone too far? What is the legality of the ongoing investigation and Disha Ravi’s arrest? Are we turning into a police state where our fundamental rights and constitutional values can be easily trampled at the say of the party in power and its trusted policemen? Parallels are being drawn with the popular mood and protests in the 1970s that led to Emergency. This narrative is legally suspect and rests on a superficial understanding of the law and India’s internal security challenges.
From the outset of the farmers’ protest, it has been portrayed as a moral crusade against an authoritarian and unjust state. While that may be appealing political rhetoric, it is far from the truth. All constitutional means have been available to opponents of the farm laws, including the courts. The fact remains that the desirability of these laws cannot be settled through protests. Elections, Parliament and the courts are the given means in our Constitution to decide such issues. To block highways and railways for months, to threaten to blockade the national capital, to link farmers’ demands to more parochial issues of Sikh pride and identity, that fuelled the Khalistan movement in the 1980s are aspects of public order and national security that cannot be overlooked. The Delhi Police investigation is open to scrutiny by the trial court and the higher judiciary.
For long, public discourse in India had been dominated by an ecosystem, that comfortably straddled the divide between legitimate protest one hand and illegal, anti-national activities on the other. It is a well-entrenched ecosystem and is well able to disguise its nefarious designs in the most innocuous and compassionate terms. It is incumbent on all law enforcement agencies to ignore all ideologically driven protests and act in a professional manner in accordance with the law. Disha Ravi may or may not have collaborated with Khalistan sympathisers in a seditious manner. The only way to prove or disprove it is through a thorough police investigation. That, I believe is underway.
Author is an IPS officer. Views are personal