Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who rose to international fame several years ago after her passionate rebuke of world leaders on climate issues, was accused last month of helping coordinate an international criminal conspiracy against India after details about her working relationship with a young, agitational climate activist in India were discovered.
Thunberg, 18, worked with 22-year-old Indian climate activist Disha Ravi to circulate a “toolkit” for hundreds of thousands of majority-Sikh Indian farmers, who since November have been protesting new agricultural laws they say will irreparably damage their livelihoods and be a boon to large corporations.
The toolkit document, titled “Farmers Protest in India,” has been deemed illegal by Indian authorities. It offers tips on how to campaign for the farmers, including how to organize or join an on-the-ground protest, which hashtags to use when promoting protests online, and advice on signing petitions to divest from fossil fuels.
The document is “meant to enable anyone unfamiliar with the ongoing farmers protests in India to better understand the situation and make decisions on how to support the farmers based on their own analysis,” it states.
The toolkit explains that the farmers’ concerns intersect with climate issues because Indian farmers are “increasingly being subjected to the control of large corporations and international institutions whose sole focus is profits, and necessarily involves increased exploitation of nature.”
“The same destructive forces that are destroying the planet are the ones taking over the lives of our country’s most populous and important demographic,” the toolkit states.
Ravi, a business school graduate who works at a vegan restaurant, founded the India chapter of Thunberg’s climate activism movement Fridays for Future, connecting her closely with Thunberg.
The farmer protests first drew global attention when pop superstar Rihanna tweeted about them, seemingly out of the blue.
“Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest,” Rihanna tweeted on February 2 along with a link to a CNN story about the protests.
But it was the day after Rihanna’s tweet, when Thunberg accidentally leaked the toolkit online, that pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place as the two climate activists came under fire for what the Indian government viewed as an attempt to undermine its authority.
Thunberg tweeted out the Google Doc link to the toolkit, which is said to have alerted the Delhi police to the toolkit’s existence.
In the immediate aftermath of the viral leak, Ravi and Thunberg exchanged frantic text messages as they scrambled to determine their next move, WhatsApp chats obtained by The Times Now show.
“I will receive so many threats because of this.. Its really blowing up,” Thunberg texted Ravi.
“Shit. Shit,” Ravi responds.
Several messages later in their exchange, Ravi texts that she is going to “talk to lawyers,” adding, “I am sorry but our names are on it and we can literally get UAPA against us,” referring to India’s anti-sedition law.
After a few more messages, Ravi asks Thunberg to give her five minutes because she is talking to her lawyers.
“I am really really sorry. We are all panicking because this is getting really bad here,” Ravi says. “But we will make sure you are in the clear,” she continues, adding, “we just have to deactivate all socials.”
On February 13, Ravi was arrested and charged with sedition and conspiracy, causing widespread outrage in India and fear among other activists that they could be the next to face consequences. She was released on bail ten days later.
Delhi Police launched a criminal investigation and said that Ravi was a “key conspirator” in the document’s formulation and dissemination along with several other individuals, who acted with the intention of “tarnishing the image of India.” The document is evidence of a conspiracy “to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India,” police said.
Additionally, police said that Ravi and Thunberg participated in a Zoom meeting on January 11 organized by the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), which supports the Khalistan movement, a Sikh separatist movement that seeks to form a new sovereign state consisting of the Indian state of Punjab and the Pakistan province by the same name. Police also said they would be investigating Ravi’s connections with the Sikhs for Justice, a pro-Khalistan secessionist group based in the U.S.
Plans for the toolkit document and a proposed “Global Day of Action” on January 26 were finalized during that meeting.
Sure enough, on January 26, thousands of farmers on the outskirts of Delhi pushed past police and stormed the historic Red Fort complex in the Indian capital, leading to the death of one protester, 200 arrests, and 300 injured police officers.
Later, reports circulated that the PFJ had paid Rihanna $2.5 million for her tweet promoting the farmers protests in an attempt to coordinate a global campaign against India. The Canada-based group denied the claim, saying it did not pay any celebrities for publicity related to the farmers protests and did not coordinate any protests.
“We didn’t pay anyone to tweet — and certainly didn’t pay anyone $2.5m to do so. However, we did generally encourage the entire world to share this issue. Through the international collective of organizers we encouraged the world to pay attention and amplify this message,” PFJ co-founders Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal said in a joint statement.
“We were not involved in directing or fomenting any protest activity of any sort within India,” PFJ added.
Meanwhile, a slew of high-profile liberals in the Western world have spoken up in support of the farmers protests and Ravi herself, including lawyer and activist Meena Harris, who is the niece of Vice President Kamala Harris, and lawmakers in the U.S. and UK.
Meena Harris hailed Ravi’s release on bail in a tweet, saying, “I want to believe it’s in part because so many people spoke out against the government’s silencing dissent. Please stay loud — this fight is far from over.”
“This isn’t just about agricultural policy. It’s also about the persecution of a vocal religious minority. It’s police violence, militant nationalism, and attacks on labor rights. It’s global authoritarianism,” Harris wrote in another tweet. “Don’t tell me to stay out of your affairs. These are all of our issues.”
The Indian government has responded forcefully to the barrage of international criticism it received over the police response to the protests and Ravi’s arrest, saying the information campaigns in support of the farmers are propaganda.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs condemned celebrities across the world for “rushing to comment on such matters” without a “proper understanding of the issues.” The ministry also faulted “vested interest groups” for attempting to use the protests to further their own agendas.
Ravi’s activism also appears to have had disruptive ripple effects beyond the climate issue and farmers protests, the fresh political unrest resulting in violent clashes between political entities in India.
A 22-year-old man named Rahul Krishna, also known as Nandu, was killed on Wednesday last week during one such clash in the southwest Indian town of Nangiarkulangara.
Nandu was a worker for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group whose political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has candidates in the highest offices of Indian government, making the RSS highly influential with the Indian government. Leaders of the party said the toolkit was “evidence of international plans for attacks against India.”
The RSS clashed Wednesday night in a deadly skirmish with the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political outfit of the Popular Front of India, an extremist Islamic organization in India that engages in various activities against the Indian government and is connected with several Islamic terrorist groups.
Indian journalist Pradeep Bhandari appeared to blame Ravi’s activism directly for the violence in a tweet he posted during the early hours of February 25, almost immediately after the clash.
“21 year old Disha Ravi planned to destroy India’s peace and got support of many,” Bhandari wrote. “Now a 22 year old guy Nandu is killed by PFI’s outfit. Will anyone dare to raise their voice for this innocent kid?”
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