NEW DELHI – Dozens of people demonstrated in the Indian cities of Bengaluru and Mumbai on Monday after a climate activist was arrested for posting a document on social media supporting months of massive farmer protests.
Disha Ravi, 22, was arrested in Bengaluru on Saturday. Police said at a press conference on Monday that the document spread misinformation about farmers’ protests on the outskirts of New Delhi and “tarnished India’s image.”
Police said Ravi shared the document with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who tweeted it earlier this month.
They say sharing the document on social media indicated that there was a “conspiracy” behind the violence on January 26, Republic Day of India, when the largely peaceful farmers’ protests erupted into clashes with the police. One protester died and hundreds of police and protesters were injured.
“The call was to wage an economic, social, cultural and regional war against India,” police tweeted on Sunday.
Protesters in the southern city of Bangalore on Monday, including prominent historian Ramachandra Guha, held up placards calling for Ravi’s immediate release. In the western city of Mumbai, around 50 people have also called for Ravi’s release.
His arrest was condemned in India and beyond. Opposition parties have called his arrest harassment, intimidation and an attack on democracy. Overseas, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s niece Meena Harris criticized the government on Twitter for silencing activists.
Police also issued arrest warrants for two other activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, claiming the three created the document and shared it with others.
Police said the document contained links to websites pro-Khalistani, a movement for an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The government initially attempted to discredit the protesting farmers, many of whom are Sikhs, because they were motivated by religious nationalism.
Since November, tens of thousands of farmers have camped outside the capital and blocked highways to protest new farm reform laws they say will devastate their incomes. The protests have posed a major challenge to the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which says laws are needed to modernize Indian agriculture.
Critics accused the government of using the massive protests to intensify the crackdown on free speech.
The protests gained international attention earlier this month when pop star Rihanna, Thunberg and Meena Harris tweeted their support. India’s foreign ministry condemned “interest groups that try to enforce their agenda.”
Aijaz Rahi in Bengaluru and Rafiq Maqbool in Mumbai contributed to this report.
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