On 19 February, a Delhi court sent Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate activist, to three days in judicial custody, after she had just spent five days in the custody of the Delhi Police’s Cyber Cell unit. The Delhi Police had detained Ravi, a resident of Bengaluru, from her house on 13 February, and arrested her the next day, in a case of sedition and criminal conspiracy, among other offences. The first-information report in the case claimed that a “toolkit” had been “accidentally shared on Twitter which contains a detailed plan of a large conspiracy to wage an economic social cultural and regional war against India.” But a bare scrutiny of the FIR reveals that the police’s claims about the toolkit are tenuous at best.
On 15 February, the Cyber Cell of Delhi Police held a press conference to elaborate on the circumstances that led to Ravi’s arrest. During the briefing, Prem Nath, the joint commissioner of the police’s Cyber Cell unit, presented portions of the toolkit as incriminating evidence that tied the document to the violence during the farmers’ tractor rally in New Delhi on 26 January. Nath said that Ravi, along with a few more people, had “created and sent” this “toolkit” to others.
The toolkit in question was first tweeted by the Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg at 5.19 pm on 3 February with the caption, “Here’s a toolkit if you want to help,” regarding the farmer’s protest. At 1.22 am on 4 February, Thunberg tweeted an updated version of the document, which was titled “Farmers Protest in India,” and deleted the previous tweet. That afternoon, the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police registered a first information report, 49/2021, under four sections of the Indian Penal Code, which include sedition, criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity and provocation to riot, against unnamed persons. Apart from the toolkit, the FIR also accuses two organisations, the Sikhs For Justice, a banned Khalistani secessionist group, and the Poetic Justice Foundation, an advocacy group, of a “global conspiracy” against India.
Nath told the media, “The time-bound action points and programme given in the toolkit, when viewed in the context of actual developments in Delhi, clearly showed that the action plan formulated in the toolkit was implemented on ground or executed in a copycat manner.” He quoted terms such as “digital strike,” “Tweet storm” and “physical action” from the toolkit as incriminating evidence that tied the document to the violence on 26 January. But a perusal of the FIR and the toolkits, and the role of the organisations named, belies the police’s claims. For instance, when asked to point out which portions of the toolkit specifically urge or point to criminality, Nath replied that “The organisation which is already behind this toolkit is a banned organisation.” The police has previously claimed that the PJF is behind the toolkit, but the group is not a banned organisation. And while the SFJ is banned, the FIR does not establish any link between SFJ and the toolkit—questions to Delhi Police about evidence linking the two went unanswered. Several other links between the toolkit, SFJ, PJF and the violence on 26 January seem to be ambiguously worded and are unconvincing at best.
Typically used for social-media campaigns, a toolkit is a package of information about specific issues and the strategies that can be employed to resolve them. They are used by activists, companies, organisations and even administrations, including the Indian government. The Delhi Police, however, presented the toolkit as evidence of something more sinister. To begin with, the FIR claims that the original “Google Doc” was shared “accidentally,” and was “confidential.” Considering that Thunberg tweeted the document, and later re-tweeted an updated version—both of which are in the public domain, as toolkits are meant to be as they are often open-sourced—it’s unclear how the police reached this conclusion. Thunberg’s tweets clearly state that it was intentionally shared to publicise the context of the farmers’ movement among those who wish to extend support. After the registration of the FIR on 4 February, she tweeted, “I still #StandWithFarmers and support their peaceful protest. No amount of hate, threats or violations of human rights will ever change that.”