Kanpur-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was remanded in police custody by the Bandra Holiday Court yesterday for allegedly posting seditious content on his website. Trivedi had come to Mumbai from Delhi after a police team landed up at his house in Kanpur, seeking his arrest via a non-bailable warrant. The BKC police arrested him on Saturday.
Trivedi’s website, cartoonsagainstcorruption.com, was taken offline by its hosting company Big Rock, after receiving a notice from Mumbai police. The cartoons though, can still be viewed at cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.com.
Trivedi reportedly told the media he did not want to appoint a lawyer, or apply for bail, as he wanted to ‘see how a British-era law like sedition is going to be applied against a cartoonist in free India.’ Trivedi’s decision is meant to be an expression of protest.
Trivedi faces charges under the IT Act and the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, as well as for sedition under the IPC.
Activist Alok Dixit, who has been fighting alongside Trivedi, said, “There are four cases against him, two in Beed district and two in Mumbai. Trivedi feels that he has been fighting with authorities for months and has not been able to concentrate on his work as a full-time cartoonist. He is not going to fight the case, but fight for justice. The very Acts, which he has been opposing have been applied against him. He didn’t even have time to apply for anticipatory bail since we had no idea a non-bailable warrant had been issued.”
According to legal experts, Trivedi must be given legal representation as a constitutional right, as observed by a Supreme Court judgement just last month.
Some of the more inflammatory content of Trivedi’s cartoons irked one of the main complainants, Amit Katarnawre.
He was reportedly hurt by the cartoons that allegedly desecrated India’s national symbols. One cartoon depicts a woman draped in an Indian flag being held down by a ‘Politician’ and a ‘Bureaucrat’, as ‘Corruption’ looks on. The heading says ‘Gang rape of Mother India.’
Another cartoon depicts the national symbol where the heads of three lions have been replaced by those of wolves. Instead of the Ashoka chakra below, there is a danger sign with skull and crossbones. The caption describes it as the new national symbol.
Advocate Madhvi Goradia-Divan, author of Facets of Media Law, said, “Every artist has the right to an artistic licence. We must see the work in the context in which it has been portrayed, and the intent behind it. The cartoons have depicted nothing new, we are all aware of the corruption around us.”
Divan referred to the landmark ruling of the Delhi High Court in artist MF Husain’s case. Referring to Husain’s painting of Mother India, Justice SK Kaul had quoted Pablo Picasso and said, ‘Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art’.”
Criminal lawyer Subhash Jha said, “All constitutional freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions. Just because you have the freedom of speech and expression does not mean other special laws do not apply to you. Until a law is struck down as being unconstitutional or ultra vires, it is still enforceable and has to be obeyed. The Delhi High Court cleared Husain of any wrongdoing, but I disagree with the judgement. I think you have to draw a line somewhere.”
The ‘cartoons’ are more of an angry outburst than cartoons. The government has acted in a very heavy-handed manner and thereby exposed its own insecurities. They could have just ignored the cartoons. They are ordinary and crude, but he is entitled to his opinion.
— Hemant Morparia
One may or may not agree with Trivedi’s views. But what is happening to him is outrageous. It is possible that he is being targeted simply because of his association with Anna Hazare. There are so many other cases, which should occupy the police and the courts. It is strange for them to be targeting Trivedi.
— Manjul Kishore