Poetic Justice Foundation | Eye of the ‘toolkit’ storm

The Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), a Canada-based non-profit, has been at the centre of a roving investigation launched by Delhi Police regarding a social media campaign around the ongoing farmers agitation. It was founded in March 2020 by Canada-based Mo Dhaliwal, a digital brand strategist, and Anita Lal, a community relations specialist at a charitable organisation in Canada that provides low-interest microloans to skilled immigrants and refugees for education and career goals.

On her LinkedIn page, Ms. Lal writes that she is the “co-founder and Executive Director” of the PJF that promotes “anti-racist, anti-casteist and inclusive education, programming and dialogue”.

The PJF created an open user guide or the ‘toolkit’, suggesting hashtags and Twitter storm to create global awareness about the farmers’ protest. The user guide shared by Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg on her Twitter page on February 3 — which she deleted later, replacing it with another guide — convinced the police about an “international conspiracy” to sully India’s image. On February 4, the cyber cell of Delhi Police registered an FIR under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 124 A (sedition), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code based on the content of the toolkit.

Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate activist from Bengaluru who edited “two lines” in the online user guide, was arrested by police on February 14. Two others — Nikita Jacob, an advocate, and Shantanu Muluk, an engineer-turned-activist, are currently out on bail. The PJF’s website says that it challenges “structures of oppression and discrimination through inter sectional grassroots advocacy.”

‘Emotionally connected’

“Currently, we are most actively involved in the #FarmersProtest that has activated Indian diaspora worldwide,” the website says, referring to a page — AskIndiaWhy.com — that has been blocked in India. On February 6, the group issued a three-page statement denying that it coordinated with pop star “Rihanna, Greta Thunberg or any number of specific celebrities to tweet about the #FarmersProtest”.

The PJF said that it connected with like-minded people who were equally moved and “emotionally connected to the plight of our people in India” and saw that the diaspora struggled to “organise and galvanise support”.

“The materials we produced were made freely available for all. In fact, these materials are still available online. We didn’t take them down, because we believe in the work. There is no hate being propagated and we will never promote hate,” the PJF said.

It said that the PJF “did not coordinate any protest activities occurring within India…Up to India’s Republic Day, January 26th, 2021, and beyond — whether at Red Fort in Delhi or elsewhere in the country — we were not involved in directing or fomenting any protest activity of any sort within India.”

On January 9, Mr. Dhaliwal shared on his Facebook page that the PJF was developing campaign and media kits that are “simple, shareable and have a powerful messaging to arm our global sangat of organisers” as a network of youth organisers from around the world are signing on to organise a Global Day of Action — a protest and campaign triggered by the farmers protests to take place on January 26.

Delhi Police has alleged that the PJF is a “pro-Khalistani” organisation and the roles of all its founders and co-founders are under scanner. The PJF is not on the government’s list of banned terrorist or unlawful organisations in India. Its website and Twitter accounts are not blocked either.

The website’s registrant is Skyrocket Digital Inc, a digital branding platform in Canada of which Mr. Dhaliwal is a director. The Instagram page of Skyrocket says Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party (the first non-white to head a national political party in Canada) was elected in 2017 as its leader aided by the “Skyrocket-branded campaign slogan”, Love and Courage.

Mr. Dhaliwal did not respond to an interview request by The Hindu, claiming that he needs a few days at least as he was “inundated right now”. His Facebook profile says he lives in Vancouver and studied at University of British Columbia. Ms. Lal did not respond to an interview request sent on her LinkedIn page.

This story is available exclusively to The Hindu subscribers only.

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