Bengaluru: For those in Bengaluru, 21-year-old Disha Ravi is a familiar face.
A founding member of the Indian chapter of Fridays For Future, the environmental movement launched by climate activist Greta Thunberg in 2018, Ravi is a regular at protests such as the Steel Flyover Beda Campaign (no to steel flyover), is present at lake clean-up drives and tree plantation exercises while also giving lectures on climate change.
The activist, arrested by the Delhi Police Sunday for “disseminating” the ‘toolkit’ shared by Thunberg on the ongoing farmer protests in India, helped launch the India chapter of FFF in 2019. She was onboard the team that helped connect FFF with close to 20,000 volunteers across India.
That association had led to the 21-year-old being featured in several international magazines including the Vogue and Auto Report Africa.
In September last year, The Guardian featured her on a piece on young people fighting climate change. “We are not just fighting for our future, we are fighting for our present,” Ravi was quoted as saying. “We, the people from the most affected are going to change the conversation in climate negotiations and lead a just recovery plan that benefits people and not the pockets of our government.”
‘Ravi was inspired by Jane Goodall’
College friends told ThePrint that Ravi, a BBA graduate from Mount Carmel College in Bengaluru, began her activism at the age of 19 and was inspired by primatologist Jane Goodall.
They added that she had been talking of pursuing a career in ecological conservation and restoration. Often seen wearing a turtle pendant on a chain around her neck, her dream was to work with turtles and marine life.
“She had a good understanding of the struggles of climate change. She would accompany her grandparents when they went to their family farm near Mysuru,” a friend told ThePrint. “As agriculturists, they suffered major losses when there were droughts or floods. This inspired her to work towards creating awareness.”
Another college friend, who did not want to be named, said, “She is passionate about climate change and even during her college days, she always spoke about making the world a better place.”
Ravi lives with her mother, a homemaker in Bengaluru, and is the sole breadwinner in the family. When ThePrint visited her home in Abbigere, Chikkabanavara, her mother Manjula refused to speak. Some neighbours ThePrint spoke to described Ravi as a “soft-spoken” girl who would walk her German Shepherd
A senior official at Jhatkaa, an NGO where Ravi worked and which leverages digital technology to build grassroots movements, spoke of how the activist had been facing economic constraints. “She had sought to work with the organisation in the morning and evenings to add to her income,” the official said.
‘Did nothing wrong’
Those close to her now defend the climate activist against the charges brought on her by the Delhi Police.
Yuvan Aves, a volunteer at FFF, dismissed the police allegations that Ravi collaborated with the “pro-Khalistani” organisation Poetic Justice Foundation to allegedly spread disaffection against the Indian State.
“To link young (FFF) volunteers with separatists and Khalistanis is ridiculous,” Aves said. “There is absolutely no link between FFF and the Khalistani movement.”
“Many of our volunteers are schoolchildren who do beach clean-ups and tree plantations drives,” Aves added. “There are about a few thousand FFF volunteers in India. It is not a coordinated movement.”
The FFF has, however, run into trouble with the police on earlier occasions. In July 2020, the Delhi Police had blocked the FFF India website and sent notices to its members for depiction of “content and unlawful activities or terrorist acts, which are dangerous for peace, tranquility and sovereignty”. The police had also invoked Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act but later withdrew the notice.
Another notice was sent last year after FFF India activists tried to spam Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar’s inbox over the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification.