Know your rights: Disha Ravi’s arrest & the Delhi police witch-hunt

As a judge sent the 21-year-old to police custody, Sabrangindia explains how arrest should be the last option for law enforcement authorities

Disha Ravi’s arrest
Image courtesy: The Indian Express

In a shocking turn of events, a Delhi Magistrate, Dev Suroha remanded 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi to five days of police custody over the toolkit shared by international activist Greta Thunberg related to the farmer’s protest on social media, as was widely reported. The easy acceptance of the arrest and custodial detention by the Magistrate has raised serious questions of both law and principle.

During the hearing, Ravi broke down inside the courtroom and told the judge that she had edited only two lines of the tool kit and that she wanted to support the farmers’ protest. 

On February 15, the Delhi Police issued non-boilable warrants against two more activists Nikita Jacob and Shantanu in connection with the same toolkit on farmer protests’ matter. A Delhi Police Spokesperson told the media, “We issued NBWs against Nikita Jacob and Shantanu. The Cyber Unit of Special Cell found their involvement in the toolkit case. We’ll soon make arrests. They were in direct interaction with pro-Khalistan elements and worked closely with other creators of the document”.

Nikita Jacob, who is an advocate has moved the Bombay High Court seeking transit anticipatory bail for four weeks. Her application will be heard tomorrow before the Bench of Justice P D Naik.

Who is Disha Ravi?

Hailing from Bangalore, Disha reportedly graduated from Mount Carmel College and founded the “Fridays for Future” campaign in India, which was kick-started by Greta Thunberg in 2018. At present this campaign, which is a people’s movement for climate justice, has garnered nearly 8,000 followers on Twitter.

As has been widely reported, FFF has close to 150 activists and their activities involve researching environmental issues, organising climate strikes in public spaces, online campaigns against projects considered detrimental to nature, ground level work with local communities and schools to create awareness.

In an interview to American author and Professor Gayle Kimball, Indian Express quoted her saying, “In India, protests are a part of life since the Indian freedom struggle was rooted in peaceful protests. There are a lot of protests on humanitarian issues and religious issues and protests are very ingrained in Indian society”.

In keeping with her interest in climate change and vegan food habits, she also works as a culinary experience manager with GoodMylk, a company involved with making plant-based food accessible and affordable to people, as reported in the media.

Why has she been arrested?

In the Patiala House Complex court, Public Prosecutor alleged that Disha was part of a larger conspiracy against the country. Disha denied being part of any conspiracy, and in her defence said, I was just supporting farmers. I supported farmers because they are our future and we all need to eat”. She added that she didn’t create the toolkit, and just made two edits to it, reported Bar & Bench.

According to some media reports, the Delhi Police has alleged that a toolkit (document that explains some issue and lists a set of guidelines for addressing them) was created by a Khalistani group, Poetic Justice Foundation and was edited by Disha Ravi. The allegations also say that Ravi shared this toolkit with Swedish based 18-year-old activist, Greta.

The allegations did not end here as the Police has also claimed that after the young activists “collaborated” with pro Khalistani elements and shared the toolkit, Disha Ravi asked Greta Thunberg to remove the main document after its “incriminating details” accidentally got into the public domain.



The Delhi Police said it has registered an FIR against unnamed persons under sections 124A (sedition), 153 (provocation with an intent to cause riots) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. Delhi Police tweeted:

“Disha Ravi, arrested by CyPAD Delhi Police, is an Editor of the Toolkit Google Doc & key conspirator in document’s formulation & dissemination. She started WhatsApp Group & collaborated to make the Toolkit doc. She worked closely with them to draft the Doc. Delhi Police has taken cognizance of a ‘Toolkit Document’ found on a social media platform that predates and indicates a copycat execution of a conspiracy behind the 26 Jan violence. The call was to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India”.



Support for the brave heart

As soon as the news of her arrest broke out, emotions of shock and grief poured in for Ravi by legal experts, public figures and netizens on social media. The latest expression came from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who tweeted, “Arrest of 21 yr old Disha Ravi is an unprecedented attack on Democracy. Supporting our farmers is not a crime”.  

Senior Advocate Rebecca John took to the digital medium to express her disappointment in the matter and also pointed out the legal discrepancies. She alleged that Disha has been remanded to police custody without even ensuring that she gets access to legal representation. She questioned, “Were the case diaries and arrest memo examined?” adding that this was a “shocking abdication of judicial duties”.



Advocate Rebecca John further asked, “Magistrates must take their duties of remand seriously and ensure that the mandate of Article 22 of the Constitution is scrupulously followed. If the accused was not being represented by counsel at the time of the hearing, the magistrate should have waited till her counsel arrived or in the alternate, provided her with legal aid,” John, an acclaimed criminal lawyer, wrote on Facebook.

John further asked whether the Duty Magistrate asked the Special Cell of the police why Ravi was being produced in Delhi from Bangalore without a transit remand from Bangalore courts. She further said that a Duty Magistrate, sitting on a Sunday, should “at best remand for a day, so that the regular court takes up the matter the next day.” Duty magistrates should not send an accused to five days police custody, John added, demanding the magistrate to ensure effective legal representation.

Senior Advocate Dr. Colin Gonsalves, speaking to the NDTV, said that the so-called “toolkit” was only a manual for peaceful protest, and had no content inciting violence. He asked, “Tell us from the toolkit, whatever version you have, which line is a criminal offence?”

On February 14, Senior Advocate Saurabh Kirpal tweeted: “Why do we arrest people at the drop of a hat? If someone is guilty, prosecute and punish them. Pre-trial arrest (as a substitute for punishment) is an abdication of the responsibility of the police to investigate. It also numbs us as a citizenry”.

Human rights practioneer Prasant Bhushan also put out a strong tweet stating that the Magistrate mechanically remanding her to police custody abdicated his responsibility and the Delhi Police did not follow due process. He shared the statement condemning the illegal arrest of Disha Ravi issued by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and reforms on February 15.

The Statement said, “The allegations against her absurd to say the least and are an attempt to criminalise dissent and protest. Further, Delhi Police have failed to follow any of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar (2014) when it comes to arrest”.

The statement also adds that, “We also note with deep disappointment the complete abdication of duty by the Duty Magistrate…the Magistrate has performed his task in a mechanical manner that has resulted in a serious violation of human rights. Such an attitude among the judiciary renders the valuable right under Article 22 (2) a virtual nullity and must be deprecated in the strongest possible manner”. The entire statement may be read here.

Rights available to a Detenu

All persons, irrespective of detention enjoy certain rights regarding dignity and liberty in India. In the Arnab Goswami Bail mater, the Supreme Court very recently battled in favour of ‘Personal Liberty’ while granting him bail.

The top court had observed, “Courts must be alive to the need to safeguard the public interest in ensuring that the due enforcement of criminal law is not obstructed. The fair investigation of crime is an aid to it. Equally it is the duty of courts across the spectrum – the district judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court – to ensure that the criminal law does not become a weapon for the selective harassment of citizens.”

In Joginder Kumar vs State of Uttar Pradesh 1994 SCC (4) 260, the Supreme Court had held that, “No arrest can be made because it is lawful for the police officer to do so. The existence of the power to arrest is one thing. The justification for the exercise of it is quite another. The police officer must be able to justify the arrest apart from his power to do so. Arrest and detention in police lock-up of a person can cause incalculable harm to the reputation and self-esteem of a person. No arrest can be made in a routine manner on a mere allegation of commission of an offence made against a person”.

With such established ratio(s) in place, unfortunately, the lucidity in following due process cannot be vouched for. Here is a little guide to understand the available rights to all detainees:

Grounds of arrest:

According to Section 50 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), a police officer making an arrest without warrant must mandatorily inform the person full particulars of the offence for which he is arrested or other grounds for such arrest and that the person arrested that he is entitled to be released on bail.

Section 55 of CrPC lays down that it is the right of the accused to know in case of being arrested, the written order against him, specifying the offence or other cause for which the arrest is being made.

Section 75 of the CrPC says “The police officer or other person executing a warrant of arrest shall notify the substance thereof to the person to be arrested, and, if so required, shall show him the warrant”.

Person arrested not to be detained for more than 24 hours

Irrespective of an arrest with or without a warrant, the accused must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest. Section 57 of CrPC says: “No police officer shall detain in custody a person arrested without warrant for a longer period than under all the circumstances of the case is reasonable, and such period shall not, in the absence of a special order of a Magistrate under section 167, exceed twenty- four hours exclusive of the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the Magistrate’ s Court”.

Access to legal help

Article 22(1) of the Constitution states that the arrested person has a right to appoint a lawyer and be defended by the pleader of his choice.

Section 41D of the CrPC allows an arrested person to meet an advocate of his choice during interrogation.

Right to silence

Article 20(3) of the Constitution states that no person can be compelled to be a witness against himself, i.e., give any information that might incriminate himself/herself. This right has also been upheld in Nandini Satpathy vs Dani (P.L.) And Anr 1978 SCR (3) 608, where the apex court said that no one can force any person to give any statement or to answer questions and the accused person has a right to keep silence during the process of interrogation.


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