No country for cartoonists
The arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for sedition, and on cybercrime charges and charges of insulting the national flag, Parliament and the Constitution, militates violently against the spirit of tolerance, democracy and free speech that we practice, or think we do, in India. Aseem is an award-winning political cartoonist and internet freedom crusader who is now part of the broader anti-corruption campaign of Anna Hazare. But even if he was not well-known and had not won an award, his arrest is still untenable and unacceptable. What does one mean by sedition? How can a peaceful protest through a work of art, however satiric and condescending it might be, called sedition? And what exactly is cyber crime? Trivedi has not hacked or intruded into anyone’s privacy. Such actual acts of cybercrime are now widely practiced with impunity and the police takes little interest in them. Is hosting your work on social networking sites for wider public coverage and dissemination an act of cyber crime? The state and the police must answer for their act, unless the state and police have become what we call by the name of a police-state, where such gross violations of rights of free speech essentially take place.
By trying to stifle protest and free speech, the political establishment is not only stepping into the quagmire of intolerance but in increasingly showing how touchy it has become about issues it cannot handle. Aseem’s crimes include drawing the Parliament as a commode, replacing the lions in the national emblem with wolves and super-scribing Satyamev Jayate [truth triumphs] with Brashtamev Jayate [corruption triumphs]. For this, the Mumbai police, after months of witchhunt has booked him under sections of the Indian Penal Code, the National Emblem Act and the Information Technology Act. Aseem’s fault perhaps is that he reflects the public mood, which is saturated with disgust for the political class and its errant, arrogant and dastardly ways with which it treat issues and institutions of national importance. In modern India, has any other group degraded, repeatedly and complete confidence, the hallowed portals of the Parliament more than its members? Has any of them been booked for sedition? Has not corruption crept into each and every aspect of administration, governance and public service? Has there been any real punishment to the criminals who seem to increasingly govern our public life? Then why should one individual be booked? The government has to come out clean on its agenda prove that there is no vendetta against free speech. Till then a thousands of potential Aseem Trivedi’s will be born across the sad nation.