New Delhi: A document tweeted by climate activist Greta Thunberg on 2 February has become the subject of a major row — it has spawned a sedition investigation by the Delhi Police and led to the arrest of a 21-year-old Bengaluru-based activist, Disha Ravi.
Apart from Ravi, high court lawyer Nikita Jacob and one Shantanu Muluk have also been accused by Delhi Police of playing a role in creating the document.
But what exactly is this document, which has come to be known as a ‘toolkit’? In modern-day protest movements, toolkits have served as the digital equivalent of pamphlets and fliers that helped mobilise protesters, and guide them on the cause and nature of a certain campaign, in less tech-savvy times.
In the ongoing farmers’ protest against three farm laws passed by the Narendra Modi government last year, the purported ‘toolkit’ was meant to guide readers — even those abroad — on how they could support those demonstrating against the farm laws in India. Much of the controversy that surrounds the document stems from a version that Thunberg deleted — she subsequently tweeted an updated version. According to the police, the toolkit has a link with the violence that erupted in Delhi on 26 January during the protesting farmers’ tractor rally.
What is a toolkit?
A toolkit is a set of guidelines that suggests how a particular goal can be accomplished. Toolkits chart out a plan of action that explains the topic at hand and offers a set of suggestions that can be followed to achieve this particular goal.
Typically, toolkits are made for social media campaigns. These toolkits include information on how to promote the campaign through different social media websites.
It is not just by protesters, but also by government organisations. For instance, the Government of India’s Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade has a toolkit on how to implement Intellectual Property Rights.
The Young Adult Library Services Association, a part of the American Association, has uploaded a ‘Toolkit Creation Guide’. It defines toolkit as “a collection of authoritative and adaptable resources for front-line staff that enables them to learn about an issue and identify approaches for addressing them”.
A toolkit is a document that can be created by anyone who is part of an organisation, and people within that organisation can typically inform the contents of that toolkit. In this context, an organisation could mean a protest, a social media campaign, or even a government.
For protests, it is typically used to provide a list of reading materials, news articles and methods of protest — including the hashtags to use, for example.
The times toolkits have been used
These documents weren’t always called toolkits. As explained before, this role was served by manuals, pamphlets etc in earlier times.
A database created by the US’ Swarthmore College of worldwide non-violent movements lists at least 300 protests that have used webpages, books, leaflets as a source of information for protesters. These include protests in Britain during the 18th-19th century to end slave trade, the sit-in for civil rights in the US in 1960, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China.
Toolkits, per se, gained prominence on social media. For instance, they were used to mobilise and inform supporters during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests against economic inequality, the Hong Kong protests of 2019, the climate change protests in 2018, and the anti-CAA protests in India as well.
During the Hong Kong protests in 2019, toolkits recommended several tools, equipment, clothing and messaging methods to supporters.
During the Climate Change Strike in 2018 — started by Thunberg — several toolkits were circulated to offer guidelines on where to protest on the ground and on social media. It also provided information on the climate change movement and how it needed urgent action.