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Mainstream, VOL L, No 40, September 22, 2012

Aseem Trivedi is Not Seditious

Friday 28 September 2012, by S G Vombatkere

Aseem Trivedi has cartooned a Western-style flush toilet with the bowl showing pillars similar to those of Parliament House, and titled it “National Toilet”. The distinctive Parliament House building is obviously used by the cartoonist to symbolise the State and Central legisla-tures. Another cartoon showing the Ashoka Pillar capital with wolves in place of the lions, and “Bhrashtameva Jayate” in place of “Satyameva Jayate”, is titled “National Emblem”. Yet another titled “Gang Rape of Mother India” depicts the politician and the bureaucrat holding Mother India down, with the politician urging the wolf of corruption to rape her. And one cartoon titled “‘69’ – Favourite Position in India”, depicts ‘politics’ and ‘corruption’ as humans in a sexual ‘69’ position. These cartoons have apparently attracted the ire of some people that led to a complaint resulting in Aseem Trivedi’s arrest on charges of sedition and denigrating national symbols.

All the cartoons clearly bear the logo “Cartoons Against Corruption”, making it clear that they are sketched specifically to object to the corruption in governments, in the legisla-tures, and in civic life. It must be recognised that a whole movement headed by Anna Hazare, has arisen with the central aim of opposing corruption, and it has gained nationwide accep-tance. All the cartoons therefore need to be viewed in that light. Every single Indian will agree that corruption is monumental, it is a primary cause for slow development, and it must be stopped. Even those indicted for corruption would agree, except that they would claim that they are not guilty of corruption. In that sense, Aseem speaks for every single citizen.
Aseem’s cartoons have been described by people of repute as actually depicting what the Central and State governments and the Central and State legislatures have been doing. That is, bringing the nation into domestic and interna-tional disrepute by various acts of commission and omission centred around corruption concerning money, goods, services and economic and political corruption. India is in the upper bracket in the international corruption index and in the bottom bracket in the Human Development Index. It does not call for rocket science to make the connection between the positions in the two indices. Thus, the anger in all sections of Indian society against corruption, seen as a primary cause of denial of benefits and services, is understandable.

Unfortunately, the politician-bureaucrat-policeman class, do not appear to have under-stood that their nexus with large commercial corporations, which represent the most powerful and influential private interests in the country, is seen as the reason for public disen-chantment turning to public anger. Politicians who are in governments (the political executive along with bureaucrats) and in legislatures, are targets of people’s anger because they have betrayed the trust of the people who have elected them. Aseem’s cartoons are representative of public anger.

THE Bombay High Court has pulled up the Mumbai Police authorities for arresting Aseem Trivedi “on frivolous grounds” and “without application of mind”, thus “breach[ing] his freedom of speech and expression”. It required public anger and a PIL to receive this judicial opinion, though it is like water off a duck’s back for the politician-bureaucrat-police nexus which runs govern-ments. The charge of sedition against Aseem Trivedi for his cartoons is patently incorrect and, apart from bringing stinging judicial comments, has attracted public attention to the need to abolish Section 124A.

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition as bringing or attempting to bring hatred or contempt, or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government established by law. Notable among those charged with sedition in recent times are Dr Binayak Sen (Chhattisgarh), Dr E. Rati Rao (Karnataka), Piyush Sethia (Tamil Nadu), Manoj Shinde (Gujarat), and Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay (Uttar Pradesh). And, astoundingly, some 3580 simple village people protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (Tamil Nadu). This list is not complete. And now Aseem Trivedi (Maharashtra). It is sad that the state sees peaceful protests and peaceful protes-tors as existential threats, and resorts to charges of sedition and the use of force at the slightest excuse. To put a perspective on the politician-bureaucrat-police nexus that represents the state at the Central or State levels, they have also charged 6500 of the same KKNPP protestors with “waging war against the state”!

Whether or not the “language” of Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons is acceptable, what is abundantly clear is that neither its intent nor its content is seditious. The Mumbai Police, with their high-handed, misguided charge of sedition against Aseem Trivedi, have not only helped launch the bold young activist into national and international prominence, but made a laughing stock of the government’s real capabilities and intolerance. Long live political cartoonists!

S.G.Vombatkere served 35 years in the Indian army and retired with the rank of major general from the post of Additional DG in charge of Discipline and Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. He is presently engaged in voluntary work and is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

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