In the hours and minutes before news of her arrest broke, many may not have heard of Disha Ravi, the 22-year-old college student and climate activist from Bengaluru who is at the centre of what Delhi Police claim is a conspiracy to defame India by hijacking the farmers’ protest.
Since then, she has been all over the front pages and on social media, where debate rages over her motives, family background and life choices to answer one question – who is Disha Ravi?
In September last year British Vogue featured four young women – activists of colour on the forefront of the fight against climate change and environmental racism.
Disha Ravi was one of those four.
“Disha comes from a very humble background. Her parents are loving and care for their daughter. It is absolute rubbish what some sections of the media claim (that she was raised by and is herself a single mother or that she is a Syrian Christian from Kerala). Disha is a young and idealistic lady…,” one of Ms Ravi’s legal counsel, who is also known to her family, told NDTV (seeking anonymity).
Disha the climate activist, the legal counsel said, draws from her family’s agriculture background.
“Her parents hail from areas in Karnataka that have witnessed depletion of ground water reserves due to unseasonal rain, which impacted farmers in these areas… (because of) her grandparent’s agriculture background I feel she felt strongly about voicing support to farmers.”
“It is almost laughable. What is ‘treason’… what is ‘sedition’, as it exists on the statute books, and what is a ‘seditious act in the minds of people… there is a lot of disparity. There is no possibility of this 22-year-old conspiring against the government.”
Ms Ravi’s home in Bengaluru is in Abbigere – a fairly new residential area in the Chikkabannavara neighbourhood. Around eight years old, there are only a few houses and plots of empty land. Her home is a two-storey independent building surrounded by plants and shared with two dogs.
The building is named after Ms Ravi, whose name translates from Kannada as “direction”.
And that, friends say, is apt because they sought direction from Ms Ravi – a familiar face at protests over climate change, environmental degradation and clean-up drives across her city.
“When I learnt about Disha’s arrest, I was shocked… We first met her in 2019 at a climate meet-up in Bangalore, when Fridays For Future was just starting out in India. Disha has always loved animals and that love led her to becoming a vegan and environmental activist. What is happening is scary, but this will not stop us. We are the youth; we need to act on our climate crisis,” a friend, who is a volunteer at the Fridays For Future Karnataka chapter and has known her for two years, said.
“I know Disha hasn’t done anything wrong. The truth will come out. I will stand up for my friend in whatever way I can. Disha is a a gem of a person. It’s perplexing to us that somebody who has been striving hard for Indian representation in the global war on climate change would conspire against the government,” the friend added.
“She wanted to make this world a better place… but is being portrayed as an evil.”
Ms Ravi’s friend also confirmed to NDTV that no member of her family had spoken to, or reached out to, any media organisation. They stress that media reports quoting one or both parents are false, and that the family will speak to the press when they feel it is the right time.