All aboard the Sedition Express

With the media excitement around the arrest, defiance and subsequent release of Aseem Trivedi I am expecting a kind of sedition chic to hit the runways soon.

Aseem Trivedi’s freedom of expression must unquestionably be supported, whether we like his cartoons or not (I could use a little more humour and irony over the heavy self-righteousness). But what makes him a front page hero, while activists who have sustained a year-long peaceful protest in Idinthikarai against the Koodankulum nuclear plant or the jal satyagrahis standing neck-deep in water at Mandwa and now Harda in silent protest don’t call up the same level of passion from the media — and via that reportage, the public?

Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons do not question in any way the extremely warped idea of development that people have been led to believe is for the greater, long-term good. The alliance against corruption has continued to articulate itself on moral and somewhat childishly generic assertions of goodness and badness. In this version of the world, nationalism of the filmy variety has come to represent goodness.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

And because we have been led to believe that ‘development projects’ are for the national good, we are quick to agree that those who protest against these projects are anti-national. Somehow we see only the development project and not the injustice these protestors suffer via the project.

We also all believe we are good, so we automatically identify with the idea of goodness against corruption — but we don’t question our implicatedness in the injustice.

But corruption is not about goodness. Corruption is about the dilution and adulteration of an idea, which is justice. These symbols of national dignity — the parliament, the idea of truth reposed in the Ashoka Chakra are supposed to represent the liberty, security and equal rights of all citizens.

What are the people of Idinthukulai fighting for? That the recommendations of the government’s own expert task force on critical safety measures be implemented. Why is the government in such a hurry to start the plant without implementing what it’s own experts have recommended, with scant regard for the concerns and safety of citizens living around the plant? And how can we not care that others will have to risk their lives for development, which is supposed to benefit “everybody”, when the option of a safer and fairer development could be considered? If we condone this, can we claim that we respect those national symbols of truth and justice?

What are the jal satyagrahis in Madhya Pradesh asking for? That they receive adequate rehabilitation and land as promised by the government in return for their land and livelihoods, which they are being asked to give up for the Indira Sagar dam project. Why shouldn’t they receive this promised compensation, and how can a project which benefits some, but seriously damages others, be for ‘India’s’ good?

Are they not India, except in tourism brochures? If we dismiss their demands with platitudes about development then are we not disrespecting those ideas of equality and fairness our Constitution enshrines?

Everyone in Mumbai has now read the accounts of those living along the route of the upcoming metro. These people have not opened their windows for four years and counting. I wonder how they feel about the greater good and the better tomorrow, which never comes?

It is important that we make these connections between Trivedi’s cartoons, that metro construction grime, the anti-nuclear protestors and the jal satyagrahis. Otherwise not only are we not agreeing to be stupid, we are neither good nor just, and we wilfully permit our governments to be corrupt.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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