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False Claim That Activist Disha Ravi is Christian, a Dog Whistle to Communalists, Goes Viral

False Claim That Activist Disha Ravi is Christian, a Dog Whistle to Communalists, Goes Viral

  • Social media smear campaign against the 21-year-old climate activist trends on Twitter, seeking to project her as a Syrian Christian from Kerala.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi’s “unlawful” arrest, comes another vicious social media campaign against Ravi. On February 17, scores of Twitter and Facebook users claimed that the Bengaluru-based activist and college student hid her Christian identity and that her full name is Disha Ravi ‘Joseph’, a Syrian Christian from Kerala.

Twitter user @SaffronSunanda wrote, “Her full name is Disha Ravi Joseph. That’s the tweet.” This tweet has gained over 4,000 retweets and 13,000 likes as of this writing. The Pioneer’s editor  Pramod Kumar Singh  and Asianet News CEO  Abhinav Khare  also tweeted a similar viral claim.

The Twitter account of the  Indu Makkal Katchi, a Tamil Nadu-based right-wing Hindu political party, also tweeted that Ravi is Christian. This tweet gained over 500 retweets. Likewise, Facebook page ‘NoConversion’ made the same claim. This page has over 300,000 followers.

An anonymous Twitter account @SouleFacts, which seems to be followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wrote, “Fraud activist… Rice Bag Disha Ravi JOSEPH. Does the name ring a bell? They are always part of Break India Gang.” Similarly, several Twitter users followed by Modi claimed Ravi hails from the Christian community.

Netizen Shefali Vaidya, author, satirist and speaker, who identifies herself as a Hindu, mother and a woman, tweeted, “Don’t know whether #DishaRavi is a Joseph or Annappa or whatever. Don’t care either. She is not in jail because she is 22, or a vegan or a ‘climate change’ activist. She is in jail because she knowingly collaborated with Khalistani terrorists. Focus on that. Rest is all fluff.”

Ophthalmologist Ajay Kamath tweeted, “I think her name is actually Disha Ravi Joseph Mohammed Singh.” Kripu tweeted, “Radical Khalistani, Islamists and missionaries all over the universe are conspiring against the nation. Divorcee, frustrated, conspirator Disha Ravi Joseph has hatched diabolical sinister plan in collusion with anti-India internal and external forces to discredit the nation.”

Former India Today employee Rakesh Krishnan Thiyya, whose tweets had allegedly defamed the media house and Rajdeep Sardesai, a journalist with India Today TV tweeted, “Disha Ravi is a Syrian Christian from Kerala. Why are members of this community always at the forefront of#BreakingIndia movements? Reposting my article on why Christianity poses a clear threat to India.”Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association president Ashoke Pandit and Supreme Court advocate Prashant Patel Umrao made the same claim. Umrao, who is known for tweeting unverified claims and false news, also shared the fake claim on Twitter. Umrao wrote:“Disha Ravi Joseph is a Syrian Christian from Kerala. Members of this community always at the forefront of Breaking India movements!” Later, he deleted the tweet.

The text of Umrao’s now-deleted tweet has been reposted by several Twitter and Facebook users. Alt News documenting numerous instances of misinformation shared by Umrao  and Pandit  on multiple occasions, cautioned their readers. “Readers should note that Umrao recently falsely claimed that Nikita Jacob, who is also an accused in the Greta Thunberg toolkit case, met Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.”

The venom behind the campaign is a telling comment on how biased a majority section of India has become. Each hate message was more virulent than the other. “Disha Ravi Joseph is just one of the anti-national Mallus in Bangalore. There are thousands out there!” tweeted a man who claimed he took “life with a spoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and a shot of homemade tequila.”

Friends and supporters of Ravi had to wage a spirited social media fight to debunk the lies that were meant to embellish the “proof” of an “international conspiracy” to defame India over the farmers’ movement. The family of Ravi has clarified that she is Hindu. Dismissing these claims, her family has said that her full name is Disha Annappa Ravi. 

The false claim was also fact-checked by The News Minute (TNM) which stated that her full name is Disha Annappa Ravi. Prasanna R, a lawyer and close friend of Disha’s family, told TNM, “Her mother’s name is Manjula Nanjaiah, father is Ravi. They are from Tiptur in Tumkur district of Karnataka.” He added, “Disha’s religious identity does not matter here. How is it relevant if she is Christian or Hindu? She is a nature lover and had friends from all over. She has not followed any religion though she was brought up in a Lingayat household. It is unfortunate that we have to debunk this cooked up religious identity that is being used to spread hatred further.”

According to a news report by New Indian Express, Ravi’s mother Manjula said that her family comes from a very humble farming background, and that Ravi has seen the ups and downs of agriculture. Hence, she has always been interested in climate and nature-related issues. The family from Old Mysuru has been living in Bengaluru’s Abbigere, near Chikkabnavara, for the past 13 years.

According to The Print, Ravi lives with her mother, a homemaker in Bengaluru, and is the sole breadwinner in the family. When The Print visited her home in Abbigere, Chikkabanavara, her mother Manjula refused to speak. Some neighbors the Print spoke to described Ravi as a “soft-spoken” girl who would walk her German shepherd. 

One of Disha’s friends told TNM, “Her name is Disha A Ravi and I can’t  believe this is a conversation that needs to happen. It should not matter if someone belongs to a particular religion or caste. She is an Indian who believes in all of us coming together for the greater good and progress of this nation and us as humanity..” She continued: “Just a few days ago she was a Khalistani. Today they call her a Christian.But friends like me know that she is a Lingayat and her name is Disha Annappa Ravi,” a volunteer from the Karnataka chapter of Fridays For Future, the Greta Thunberg-founded outfit. 

“There are so many obnoxious lies being spread about Disha. Kannada channels are even saying that she received foreign funds. All these can be disproved easily, but channels are spreading lies.”

Karnataka chief minister and BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa and a host of ministers from the party belong to the Lingayat community. Ravi’s family also sought to debunk claims on Kannada media that she received foreign funds for her volunteering work. “There are so many obnoxious lies being spread about Disha. Kannada channels are even saying that she received foreign funds. All these can be disproved easily, but channels are spreading lies,” Prasanna told TNM.

One of Ravi’s friends, who regularly works with her in conducting cleanup drives and tree-planting drives in Bengaluru, said that the volunteers would manage their expenses themselves. “We manage Splitwise accounts and even share the costs of buying material like chart paper and color,” said her friend. “It’s nauseating that in this day and age, when we are bragging about being an IT superpower, we are discussing someone’s religion,” said another Fridays for Future volunteer to The Telegraph.

An alumnus of Mount Carmel College, where Ravi did her Bachelor of Business Administration, described the Twitter campaign to label her a Christian as “appalling. It’s a shame that we are even discussing it now. But to counter these people, we need to come out and debunk their appalling claims,” the former student told the Telegraph.

Multiple imposter Twitter accounts have also emerged claiming to be connected to Ravi. However, people close to Ravi confirmed that no one in her family is posting tweets on any Twitter account in her name. 

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One particular Twitter handle, as noted by TNM — @climatedisha — has over 6,000 followers and over 24,000 likes on one of the tweets. The handle first claimed that it was Disha Ravi’s sister even though she is an only child. The handle later claimed that it was her cousin. This too was denied by Ravi’s friends and family.  

“Disha Ravi Joseph” was trending on Twitter in India on Wednesday morning with hundreds of tweets claiming that Disha Ravi is a “Syrian Christian from Kerala” and that she and Nikita Jacob, against whom a non- bailable warrant has been issued by the Delhi police in the same case, are “working together to conspire against India.

There were over 10,000 tweets under this trend and counting. One of the tweets with misinformation about her name has over 9,000 likes and 3,000 retweets. But many others vehemently opposed the campaign, stating that personal faith didn’t matter.

Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of Alt News tweeted, “RW trolls are at it again. It shouldn’t matter what religion she follows but her full name is Disha Annappa Ravi. Her mother’s name is Manjula Nanjaiah, father is Ravi,” he said.

“Now bhakts falsely claim that she’s Disha Ravi ‘Joseph’, implying that she’s a Christian who deserves this treatment. The last time when they claimed Tamil superstar Vijay — who questioned the government — is in fact ‘Joseph’ Vijay to give it a communal spin, this happened,” a user named Anton Kalashnikov tweeted with a picture of Vijay attending a massive gathering of his fans.

Vijay was at the receiving end of a hate campaign in 2017 over his Diwali release Mersal (Stunned), which contained a few dialogues critical of the GST and the Digital India program. BJP leader H. Raja had then attempted to shock Vijay’s fans by drawing attention to his full name, C. Joseph Vijay, as listed in his voter ID. But the attempt to give a communal spin flopped badly as the actor — born Joseph Vijay Chandrashekar — had never concealed his full name while opting to go with the mononym Vijay.

Tweeted writer, photographer Neelima Vallangi, “Geez! But what if her name is ‘Disha Ravi Joseph’? Christians in India can’t protest now? And what if she is a single mother? Single mothers aren’t allowed to speak up? Ad hominem is the lowest form of attack, only used by idiots who have nothing to say about the matter at hand.”

National campaign-in-charge of the Indian Youth Congress, Srivatsa Y.B., tweeted: “She is Disha Annappa Ravi from a Lingayat household of Karnataka. She is NOT Disha Ravi Joseph from a Christian household of Kerala. Even if she was, does it matter? It justifies her targeting by Govt? Bhakts, what happened to Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam? All you do is divide India.”

This is not the first false claim made against Ravi. Earlier, Times Now misreported that Ravi is a “single mother,” a claim that was debunked by Alt News. On the condition of anonymity, Ravi’s high-school friend told Alt News on a telephonic call, “The social media claim that Disha is a single mother is false.”

Ravi was arrested on Feb 14 by Delhi police for allegedly being involved in editing and sharing with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg a “toolkit” on social media promoting the farmers’ protest in India. Her arrest has garnered domestic and global outrage, further adding to recent challenges faced by the leading Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.

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