The farmers’ protests in India have seen various national and international icons extending their support. Apart from generating public opinion, this also spun several controversies and allegations along the lines of international influencers like Rihanna being “paid” to tweet and talk about India's internal matters.’
The situation aggravated when a document called ‘Toolkit’ was tweeted by climate activist Greta Thunberg on 2nd February. This document gave insights into the current farmers’ movement and provided various strategies to enhance the impact of the protests. However, this toolkit generated mixed reactions and many Indians called this a part of an international conspiracy which has led to a sedition investigation by the Delhi Police.
It is in this investigation that the 21-year-old Bengaluru-based activist, Disha Ravi was arrested. Apart from Disha, the Delhi Police claimed that the two other people namely, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk have played a part in making the document.
What is the purpose of aToolkit?
In protests’ movements today, toolkits function as a digital equivalent to pamphlets and fliers that work in the favor of guiding and mobilizing protestors. It outlines a set of guidelines and gives a pattern for the goal to be achieved. It also charts out the plan of action and offers valuable suggestions to tackle problems during the movement.
Essentially, these toolkits are designed for social media campaigns. They comprise of ways to promote the campaign on different social media platforms. For such protests, these toolkits give access to reading material, news articles, and protest techniques. It also includes various social media strategies like using hashtags etc.
It is important to note that Toolkit is nothing but a document that can be created by any individual who is part of an organization. This organization implies that these people can either be part of a protest, a social media campaign, or even a government. For example, The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade of the Indian government has a toolkit on ways to implement Intellectual Property Rights.
The Print, in its recent article also gave reference to The Young Adult Library Services Association that is a part of the American Association. This organization has provided a ‘Toolkit Creation Guide’ that 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”.
How did the toolkit become an object of controversy in the farmers' protest?
The three farm laws passed by the Narendra Modi government have been the subject of criticism and opposition for a long time. Hence, the proposed ‘toolkit’ was in the pursuit to guide people both nationally and internationally to extend the support to farmers in India. The controversy began when a version that Thunberg had previously tweeted was deleted by her and she subsequently retweeted an updated document.
According to Times Of India, the first document shared by Thunberg had information about activities prior to the 26th January tractor rally agitations. It also motivated people to take major actions by writing to the UN and state heads across the world.
Thunberg deleted this document and posted a new updated version. she wrote, “They removed their previous document as it was outdated.” The current protest toolkit motivates citizens to “Share solidarity Photo/Video Message” along with hashtags like #FarmersProtest and #AskIndiaWhy so that social media outreach is maximized.
However, the police allege that this toolkit has links to the 26th January violence that broke out in Delhi. They also allege that this has links to pro-Khalistan organizations.
According to the report by Indian Express, the Delhi Police alleged that Disha Ravi was an editor of the "toolkit Google doc" and "key conspirator" in the document's formulation. Police accused that Ravi and others "collaborated with pro-Khalistan Poetic Justice Foundation to spread disaffection against the Indian State."
Past instances of when Toolkits have been used
The US’ Swarthmore College has created a database of worldwide non-violent movements that lists around 300 protests that have employed webpages, books, leaflets as a source of information for protesters. It is spread across a diverse timeline and includes protests in Britain during the 18th-19th century to end the slave trade, the sit-in for civil rights in the US in 1960, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China.
Toolkits also formed an important part of environmental movements. Several toolkits were circulated during the Climate Change Strike in 2018. This movement, which was started by Thunberg utilized these toolkit guidelines to have a framework for on-ground protests
on the ground and campaigns on social media. It provided extensive information about the hazards of climate change and the need for urgent action.
Toolkits fundamentally have gained momentum because of social media. They have proven effective in various situations to help mobilize and educate supporters. Some of these instances include the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 against economic inequality, the Hong Kong protests of 2019, and the protests for climate change in 2018. It is interesting to note that toolkits formed an integral part of the anti-CAA protests in India as well.