Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Satire or Sedition???

So finally the high profile drama over the arrest of a political cartoonist comes to an end. Aseem Trivedi accepted the bail and was finaly released from Arthur jail earlier in the day while the charges of sedition against him are still being mulled over


Aseem Trivedi, a political cartoonist charged with sedition


The entire episode smacked of unusual high-handedness of the Govt. followed by a change of stance as soon as outrage registered from domestic as well as international intelligentsia. Typical behavior one might say based on similar episodes we have observed in the past couple of years.

Trivedi was arrested on Saturday for a series of cartoons lampooning politicians and the Parliament. He refused to apply for bail at Monday's hearing declaring that if telling the truth made him a traitor, he was happy to be described as one.

And the truth is out for everyone to see - from the shoddy handling of Kashmir protests, to the  Commonwealth Games scandal to the massive looting of food stocks to the latest Coalgate, there has been a string of scams in the past few years, each bigger than the other and ALL of them involving one or the other departments of Govt.!!!



 Aseem's cartoons



Enough has been said FOR and AGAINST the contentious cartoons so we won’t venture into that territory here. But what came to fore yet again was the really really low threshold our Govt. has for criticism of any form. It was visible in the demeanor of the police who, after the order, roughed Aseem up and literally pushed him into the van as if he is a dangerous criminal!






Swati Deshpande of TOI succinctly summarizes, ‘Intolerance has become Infectious’ in our country. The week long police custody for the cartoonist is the latest in the long line of crackdown seen this year on any form of criticism of the establishment.

Mahesh Jethmalani, the criminal lawyer, adds, “Trivedi is not dishonoring anything, he is expressing his ideologies and viewpoints through his cartoons. Only people of low intellect don’t understand that. His arrest is a complete curb on freedom of expression,” Several cartoons get printed everyday lampooning the government and top ministers, but they do not attract legal cases because most sane people understand that a cartoon is a humorous comment on a political event or situation, and is not meant for causing serious offense.






However, this is not the first time a cartoonist has been dragged to court on alleged defamation charges.In the 70s, Cho S. Ramaswamy a political commentator was charged with similar cases (but not sedition) in the Indira Gandhi era. In his own words -   

“One unforgettable episode relates to the Thuglak cartoon on the Kuo oil scam in 1976, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. I made a cartoon showing Mrs Gandhi picking up a can of tar with ‘Kuo Oil’ written on it and throwing the contents on the national flag, blackening it. The idea was to show that the Prime Minister had shamed the nation, bringing it disrepute. But a Tamil Nadu Congressman filed defamation cases against me and I was forced to go to the magistrate’s court repeatedly for hearings till they decided to discontinue the case."

It would be prudent to point out that the only time emergency was declared in our country with all constitutional rights outlawed was during the reign of Mrs. Gandhi. The Milwaukee Journal even came out with a cartoon depicting the state of affairs in the country which seems eerily similar to where we are headed right now!


Newspaper headlines the day Emergency was declared
Milwaukee Journal Cartoon on Indira Gandhi




Not surprisingly, the opposition BJP has accused the authorities of imposing "an undeclared emergency in the country". The media also weighed in, with the Indian Express newspaper describing the moves against Trivedi as like using "an H-bomb to slay a rabbit".

Rama Lakshmi of the Washington Post writes - "Trivedi’s arrest is the latest in a series of clampdowns against dissenters across India in recent years, as an increasingly nervous government battles rising public anger over corruption and what many perceive as misrule."


Earlier public outcry against corruption 



Senior counsel Yusuf Muchala, however says, "No writer or cartoonist can consider themselves to be above the law. If they have insulted the national emblem as alleged, they must face the law but it is not that grave an offense that requires arrest and custody." In the same vein, he also points out quite pertinently that there are cases where someone making hate speech have not faced the law!

Indeed the recent riots in Mumbai were incited by hate speeches that resulted in hooligans snatching rifles from cops and breaking the Amar Jawan Jyoti {Check the previous post - From Assam to Azad maidan} Have any of those speakers or those rioters that broke the Amar Jyoti at Flora Fountain been charged with sedition???



 Mobs attacked National monuments as well as police personnel



Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch says,“Instead of trying to silence dissent by wrongly accusing people of sedition, the authorities would do far better addressing the reasons causing concern among citizens.”

India's sedition laws date back to the Raj, and were used for imprisoning Mahatma Gandhi, along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak and other freedom fighters. Our first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, called the same law "objectionable and obnoxious". The use of the law occurs despite a 1962 Supreme Court ruling that states that prosecution under this law requires evidence of incitement to violence and there is no evidence that Aseem Trivedi’s drawings have led to any violence. 

Yet such laws have survived for years. Why? 

The simplest reason is that these laws allow the government to gag any sort of opposition without going to the trouble of preparing a proper case! A very dangerous trend for the so called the biggest Democracy and a sure shot way of turning it into a Despotic Dictatorship!!

Kavitha Rao of the Guardian rightly points out - Trivedi is no Gandhi. But his fight, and our right to free speech, is Gandhian. He may have ridiculed national symbols but those in power have done far worse. To illustrate her point, let us look at another image of the national symbol that has surfaced on the net because of the current furor.


Should this be tried for sedition now?



A clear case of double speak by the party concerned. In the face of all such criticism, Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil finally declared there were no grounds for the police to arrest the cartoonist. "The police investigation was complete. There was no need to seek police custody. I am looking into the matter. We will say so in court," Patil said.

Too little too late??? There already are more cartoons out in the cyberspace that take a potshot at this entire episode and we can expect more to come.




For those who still don't understand the imagery and the inherent message in Aseem's cartoons, there is a need for a refresher course in the symbolism of Art! A popular tweeter Ramesh Srivats sums up the attitude with: "{We want to) screw the nation, cherish the symbols."

Jai Hind! 
.

24 comments:

Vikram SIngh said...

socho kya yah cartoons galat h aaj ke present conditions ko dekhte hue??????

Piyush Shah said...

Correctly done cartoons

Gaurav Chhabra said...

Mirror mein kadwa sach dikha diya :)

A Man on A Mission said...

@Gaurav, Vikram n Piyush i agree..

The politicians and police do nothing to stop violent mobs causing chaos on our city streets but are ready to pounce on hapless people like this in the name of sedition!!

Saurin Jhaveri said...

The three hounds could stand for NDA, UPA and the Third front! The Sarnath pillar analogy is purely coincidental and needless to add; unintentional!

Harsh Chopra said...

this has become a hallmark of the govt when it chooses not to see the bigger picture. You wish to save the symbolism and do nothing for the dignity of actual institution. If sedition applies to this artist for insulting national symbol does it not apply to those MPs who fought in parliament, does it not apply to those who have not been able to punish the parliament attackers. Our politicians have already ensured that there is ample frustation in the people and now by trying to curb what people wish to say they are just increasing it further. What do you say of a PM who says social media is a cause of concern and stays mum on two biggest scams of modern India

Jayati said...

We the people have the right of speech and we must speak out.. as our honorable top most netaji feels "He's doing a great favor being silent" !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rachita Gupta said...

Laws in our country are very strange.. There is freedom of terrorism, but not freedom of expression.. Anything that questions the way truth of the way the country is being run, gets suppressed... Satyamev Jayte..!!! :-D

A Man on A Mission said...

Very true Rachita! this image is a mirror to what is happening in the country.. the wolves represent our corrupt politicians who have substituted the original slogan by their corrupt practices to the one shown here! dunno y people dont understand artistic allegories..

@Harsh u rightly said ain't their laws to take care of the corrupt politicians that they r roaming around free still while a mere cartoon can land the artist in trouble??

Manish Nemade said...

That we all know ki politicians are disrespecting the laws but then wat has he done....the same thing....you cannot resort to terrorism to counter terrorism....though his intention might be good but he choose the wrong medium....tmrw every other person would start depicting the national emblems in which ever way they want citing freedom of speech....thereby insulting it....every one is aware of the lack of measurements govt. is taking and even oppose it but are failing to maintain it....It goes on a few days nd then nobody cares.

Deepu said...

The more I read, the more confused I become... I have no idea about why this is considered sedition.
Having said that, the four lions and the chakra are not just a symbol of corrupt politicians. They also symbolify all that's good about our country, including being able to have a discussion like this. Nonetheless, I do not understand how this can be anything more than irresponsible art.

The second image of the emblem in Tamil from some political rally is disgusting and revolting. I can only offer sympathy to the insenstive chap who did the shoddy photoshop, and the sycophants who approved the release of the image; sympathy since they are beyond all hope.

A Man on A Mission said...

Manish Nemade the responsibility as u said is on everyone of us! he has done his job to bring the issue again into limelight now its upto each one of us how we tk it further ahead.. we cant just keep sitting back criticising others efforts.. even if we dont support their ideas what r we ourselves doing to protest??

Vikram Sharma said...

I agree with deepu. The application is irresponsible but the intention is good so he doesn't deserve to be put behind the bars.The crux of the problem is that we " the people" elect our representatives and then we are the first ones to blame the government for corruption. They all are elected by us- the opposition and the government. Accept the blame and choose right and well educated people as rightly pointed out by Anna. There is no need to drag symbols to address these issues!

Rachita Gupta said...

we (esp the youth) show a lot of disrespect against a plethora of things like law & order, senior citizens, etc. Then why is this being such a debatable topic in terms of disrespect (and not understanding d underlying msg). Is this d only way left to show our Patriotism towards our country..!??

A Man on A Mission said...

Rachita Gupta i totally agree!!! suddenly this has become such a big issue especially amongst those who hv never participated in the protests before!! if u cant do anything to help the cause at least dont bring down those who hv the courage n conviction to do it!!

Priyank Mehta said...

good one..........the politician bhookha bhediya of money, power and sex...........

Karan Kandhari said...

Congress is going all out digging its own grave..... I am waiting for the last nail in its coffin....

Anonymous said...

He did nothing wrong.Why government is playing double standard its out common people thoughts.Aseem just tried to show the actual face of our bloody motherfucker politician.
Dont Worry dude this current generation of Indians are with you.

Anonymous said...

the truth is revealed but our system is not accepting this....
we have full rights to improve our country... and we don't want to spare these bastards... they deserve to be hanged....

Richa Pandey said...

actually these cartoons show the real india...........

A Man on A Mission said...

@Richa, Karan and Priyank i agree.. we need to understand the message behind these depictions and not get sentimental about the use of these symbols!! what use are the symbols if ther's nothing left in the country to protect

aman said...

it doesnt matter to corrupt people wheather its satire or sedition...:(

Jayant Malani said...

These cartoons a little offend. National Emblem, Parliament, Goddesses photos must not be played off. I am in favor of India Against Corruption Movement but we should value what we have been taught...

soumya said...

STOP PLAYING WITH MASS... DONT MESS WITH PUBLIC.. DEMOCRACY..WILL WIN AT LAST...WE STILL HOLD OUR PATIENCE.. DEAR INDIAN GOVT.. SUDHAAR JAO.. NEHI TO.. TOOFAN A JAYEGA...