Much Ado..:Yet another Cartoon Controversy!

Symbols are more important to us than what they symbolise. Thus National Flag, National Motto, National Emblem, National Anthem, gain matter of life and death importance only when they are perceived to have been belittled or insulted, otherwise they could be and are safely ignored. Indeed, it takes little for us to feel insulted or our nationhood to feel threatened. Indians are a humourless lot, or at least their police force is. What else could explain the arrest of Aseem Trivedi – a recipient of 2012 *Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award* of Virginia based Cartoons Rights Network International- on charges of sedition (Section 124A of Indian Penal Code), Sending offending messages (Section 66A of Information Technology Act), and Insulting National Emblem (National Emblem Act 1971sic)?

Maharashtra Times reported, ^^असिम यांनी डिसेंबर २०११मध्ये मुंबईतील इंडिया अगेंस्ट करप्शन संस्थेने आयोजित केलेल्या एका मोर्चात सत्यमेव जयते या बोधवाक्याऐवजी भ्रष्टमेव जयते , असे वाक्य लिहले आहे . तसेच राजमुद्रेवर सिंहाच्या जागी लांडग्याचे चित्र काढले होते , असे समजते^^. Essentially, among other things, the case seems to be anchored on *perceived insult* to National Emblem, which Trivedi  had altered to better represent what he and most Indians see as the current reality on India and Indian State. The official emblem of India looks like this (Source:Wikipedia):

Last December, during a protest against endemic corruption in the country by *India Against Corruption* movement, Trivedi conceptualized the state of affairs as he saw it in a cartoon below (Source: http://www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.in/).

In public life, our national motto says, *Truth alone shall prevail*. But alas, today, only corruption seems to triumph -भ्रष्टमेव जयते- is what Trivedi says here. With due respect to wolves, and no disrespect to lions; Trivedi has substituted lions with wolves and used their *popular anthropomorphic image* as cunning and opportunistic beasts, who are out to swindle the rightful owners of their dues, to depict those who control & exercise state power. The cartoon is not parodying the high ideals of the national emblem, but is attempting to symbolise what the nation it envisaged has in fact become. Lions are symbol of *state power*, but they could also be seen as another popular anthropomorphic image that urges the citizenry to be fearless and forthright. The cartoon that Trivedi drew thus makes him a true inheritor of the State Emblem, an irony that would obviously be lost on the *guardians of the law*.

I do not know if any cartoons by Trivedi made use of National Flag or Constitution, or did he prevent the singing of the national anthem. If not, it is difficult to see how the charges under The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 as amended will hold. The act makes no mention of National Emblem. The reading of Information Technology Act – section 66A, subsection (b) –any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device– or (c) –any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages– makes it plain that charges under these won’t stand judicial scrutiny. The subsection (a) –any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character– is so grossly omnibus as to hold true in every case, because there will be always someone out there who will be offended. It is noteworthy that case against Trivedi was filed in the Beed District of Maharashtra as per Indian Express report. Trivedi’s cartoons did not become public knowledge, honestly I was unaware of them until he was arrested, through communications in cyberspace; but through visual media’s tracking of India Against Corruption movement. But are not the police habitual offenders in invoking as many statutes and sections as feasible while preparing charge-sheet in the fond hope that at least something would stick? The colonial mindset of the law enforcement agencies has been stimulated and become highly animated in recent years as the awareness about State’s perfidy has grown exponentially and as have the peoples’ movements grown to resist it. Human Rights Activists, Anti-Nuclear Activists, Environmental activists, Journalists, Photographers, – all these and more find mention in the *roll of honour* following M K Gandhi and others, who were charged by the British Raj under this draconian measure. Sedition has become as common place as Corruption. The section 124A of IPC reads:
^^
124A. Sedition.— Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in [India], shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
^^.
The cartoon that evoked *sedition wrath* sought to highlight the hold corruption has over affairs of the state. But so did the BJP and other opposition parties during recently *concluded* monsoon session of parliament. The entire monsoon session was almost a washout in terms of legislative business. The proceedings were repeatedly stalled and almost no business could be transacted. See graphic by PRS Legislative Research:

Parliament is a forum for informed debate on state policy and legislation among elected representatives and also a check on the executive to ensure it is not transgressing the policy that is in force or the laws of the land. Instead of debate, let alone an informed one, the current session was marred by relentless disruptions and stalling of proceedings. It suited both the ruling party as well as the opposition, principally the BJP. Both had Coal-skeletons in the cupboard, which threatened to expose themselves in public in case of a debate. Congress had the alleged largesse shown to Navin Jindal, Vijay Darda, Subodh Kant Sahay to feel nervous over just like the BJP had reasons to be coy over government policies in the states like Chhattisgarh & Rajasthan where it rules or ruled, or BJD in Orissa. BJP’s benumbing din that auction route was not followed by the centre as *suggested* by Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) ran into the face of not just the stance of its own state governments but also the law of the land as brought out by G Mohan Gopal in his article: The accountability of CAG. Section 10 of the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957, vests the authority of granting mining leases to state governments, not the centre, and there is no bar in it on state governments to follow the auction route. When this act was enacted in 1957, Indian republic was very young, and Nehruvian  Socialist perspective wished to fashion the Indian state as protector of common persons’ interests, a fatherly figure or sort of कर्ता (Head) of Hindu undivided family. But the developments in subsequent years has shown the Indian state in the role more of a predator with very little concern for the welfare of its toiling masses. Since the Indian State cannot be trusted now to do right by the people, there is a need to drastically clip the powers it arrogated to itself in the mistaken believe that it will act as their protector. Such issues should have been the focus of debates in the parliament, but instead what we had was a spectacle of  noisy slogan shouting to avoid facing the issues head on. If anyone has devalued and brought into disrepute the institution of parliament, which is supposed to embody the supreme will of the Indian people, then it is the members of parliament, who in fact are solely responsible to uphold its dignity and majesty. Sedition law in fact needs to be invoked against them. Under their stewardship corruption has been institutionalised, while crusaders against corruption are turned into criminals.

A word is now in order about the cartoon repertoire of Aseem Trivedi. The cartoon mentioned by Maharashtra Times that was reproduced earlier is definitely not in bad taste in my opinion, nor does it seek to denigrate a national emblem. But there are other cartoons he has drawn, especially those showing Indian parliament building, that not only lack good sense, but are crass and outright in bad taste. Those interested can verify what I have said by visiting the link provided earlier to his site. Good cartoons need to be subtle, first and foremost. Trivedi is young and may be in his unrestrained zeal for a cause he so obviously believes in, he got carried away and went over board. Though his depictions can be faulted, not his intentions. His mistakes definitely need to be flagged and even criticised severely if needed, but filing criminal cases against him is not only preposterous but belittles the Indian Democracy.

Epilogue: The Cartoon Drama in the end is just that. It provides talking points to politicians, intelligentsia, and media, and a great opportunity for hyperbole. It acts as a red herring and a *much desired* distraction, a kind of deliberately created crisis that can be conveniently resolved later on. But in the interim, it whisks away national attention from real crises. There are several of those: erratic monsoon, water availability, and food inflation; ethnic strife in the north east; cornering of land, water, and other natural resources by corporates with active connivance of politicians and the State to the detriment of nation as a whole; huge deficit in primary, secondary and even higher education; pitiable conditions of sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, healthcare-access, to majority, especially children and women; and the listing can go on. Is Parliament willing to debate these issues and the way forward? Is Executive willing to act for the people? Is judiciary the only remedy, that too only as first-aid, to redress these structural issues? Who would debate these real crises, and not the manufactured ones?

O O O O O O O O O O O O O
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