Ban corruption, not banish the cartoonist.

[This is an AHRC Article]

The arrest of Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist and a member of India against Corruption, is not only ridiculous but also a telling comment on the paranoia that has set in the government circles and deserves all the outrage it has caused. In fact, the only thing more ludicrous than the arrest itself is the reason cited by the Mumbai Police for the arrest. Mr Trivedi has been booked for nothing less than sedition and showing disrespect to national emblem on a private complaint filed by an advocate who, incidentally, also happens to be a member of a political party in the line of fire for many of its leaders being charged with corruption charges.

On being asked about the reason behind the arrest, Mumbai Police attributed it to 'procedural formality' on a complaint filed under section 124 A charging Mr. Trivedi with 'showing disrespect to the National Emblem' and putting up 'ugly and objectionable content' on his website. The facts of the case, however, tell a very different story. The cartoons in question include one where he replaced four lions of India's national emblem with wolves and a caption 'bhrshtmev jayate'(Corruption wins) instead of official 'satyamev jayate'(truth wins). The message oozing out of the cartoon was loud and clear, that corruption is devouring the nation. Does Mumbai Police think it is not?

Similar was another cartoon of his where he depicted the Parliament building as a toilet. Hard hitting it was, but with more than one third of India's parliamentarians charged with grave offenses including murder and rape, this is what an average Indian thinks of it. It is such parliamentarians and the system that refuses to cleanse itself of them, and not Aseem, that insults the parliament. He was just telling a truth, however bitter, but still a truth. All other cartoons of his tell the tales of miseries inflicted on the body politic of Indian nation by the very same people who are constitutionally obligated to protect it. If someone needed to be charged with sedition, it should had been those in such authority for making a mockery of India, its people and citizenry included.

The concerns regarding his arrest, though, do not stop at the preposterousness of it. It is the same police, after all, which takes no action against the likes of Raj Shrikant Thackeray, the leader of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, who spits venom against the North Indians working in the metropolis almost on a daily basis. Not only that, neither the police nor the government seem to be bothered with his calls to violence against the migrant labour in the city that get duly carried out by his party. Forget that, Mumbai Police did never show any intent to bring him to books for inciting his legislators for comitting a physical assault on Abu Azmi, a legislator, inside the assembly house for the 'crime' of taking oath in Hindi, an official language of Indian state. Insulting the assembly by engaging in acts of violence, perhaps, is not as serious a threat to the nation as Aseem's cartoons.

Similar, almost legendary in fact, has been Mumbai Police's inaction on the words and deeds of Bal Thackeray, leader of Shiv Sena who have gone to the extent of calling upon Hindus to form 'suicide armies' to wipe out 'Muslims'. Mumbai Police did not find even such an open call for violence against Indian citizens seditious enough to act upon. Evidently, it has its own idea of crime, one that is markedly different from that outlined in the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. It picks and chooses the 'crimes' irrespective of fact of any criminality being attached to them or not.

Neither is the case of Aseem a standalone case of such miscarriage of both the procedure and justice. People with vested interests across India have taken recourse to such rancorous filing of charges for stifling the voices of dissent. They do it, on top of that, in courts spread all over the country and make the respondent's life hell. The case of famous actress Khushboo readily comes to mind against whom 22 criminal cases had been registered for advising women to take adequate protection if they indulged in pre marital sex. The very fact that these many cases can be filed in different courts for such an innocuous, and necessary, opinion exposes the threat to freedom of expression and speech in India. Similar had been the plight of many others subjected to deal with such frivolous cases for having the courage to say what they believe in.

Interestingly, these self-appointed custodians of morality, patriotism, culture, or whatever else do never get offended about the comments that really are hateful. For example, I do not remember anyone rushing to file cases against Acharya Giriraj Kishore of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for saying that lives of cows are far more important than that of Dalits, a comment that is not only offensive but also criminal for being discriminatory against a section of Indian society. Likewise, no one felt offended enough with Ashok Singhal of the same organization for calling upon Hindus to 'repeat Gujarat experiment all over India' and thus giving an open call for violence against Muslims.

Unmistakably, what offends these 'custodians' is any opinion that is capable of challenging the status quo that they derive their power and position from. They get affronted with any opinion that challenges the hierarchies that place them where they are. They get slighted with any belief that aims at breaking the backbone of graded inequalities that define the nation called India and act upon them. Yet, they too have a right to their opinion if it is not an outright call to violence or involves any other element of criminality including hate speech. That is the catch of a democracy, that we just cannot silence any opinion just like that.

How does the same democracy, then, silence the dissenters? The answer to this question exposes the enormity of the problem and the grave consequences it would have for the democracy if it is left unattended to. It were, earlier, a bunch of right wing thugs, that used to try stifling voices that were different from what they wanted to listen to. Now, the state is taking up their job. It listens to fundamentalist Muslims and bans Lajja, a novel by Taslima Nasreen and stops Salman Rushdie from attending famous annual event named The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). It listens to the Hindu fundamentalists and bans Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India for promoting 'social enmity'. It listens to the Hindu right again and takes The Collected Essays of A.K. Ramanujan off the syllabus of Delhi university. The list of such banned books in the 'largest democracy of the world' is endless.

The point is that the government has learnt the art of using the excuse of 'hurt sentiments' to goad its critics into silence. Stung by the extent of the popular anger directed against its acts of omissions and commissions, it has gotten paranoid about any dissent that comes its way and has started cracking down on them. These are definitely not good signs for the future democracy in the country is a fact that one need not even. Right to freedom of expression is a right guaranteed by the constitution and is a non-negotiable one. The point is how to safeguard it in the face of increasing vigilantism of the state and the consequent assault on the freedom.

The only way ahead is by challenging the legality of such arrests and bringing the perpetrators, police officers in this case, to books. These arrests are illegal on the very face of it and are, therefore, indefensible as Justice (retired) Markandey Katju asserted while speaking in defense of Mr. Trivedi. The police officers, he added, should not get away on the defense that they were carrying orders of their superiors, as carrying out illegal orders cannot be used as a defense and therefore gives no legal protection to the perpetrators, is a well established fact in jurisprudence. 

Punishing such officers is required for another very important reason, for both making the system accountable and holding officers responsible for their act. This would also desist them from following such illegal orders for selfish interests. 


  1. असीम त्रिवेदी ने देश भक्ति के चलते देश की दुर्दशा को चित्रित करने के लिये कार्टून बनाया. पुरस्कार पाने के लिये या अखबार में छपवा कर नौकरी की तनखाह पाने के लिये या सरकार के आगे पीछे दुम हिलाने के लिये नहीं. और ना ही लोगों को धर्म के आधार पर लड़वाने की मंशा से नफरत फ़ैलाने के लिये. और वह पूरी वीरता से बयान देते हैं और ओजपूर्ण स्वर में तथा स्पष्ट शब्दों में अपना पत्र भेजते हैं. मैं उनको सलाम करता हूँ.
    भारत का संविधान क्या जनपक्षधर है? कौन सी धारा उसमे अंग्रेज़ों के जमाने की नहीं है? क्या अदालत में बैठा जज उस संविधान की धाराओं के आधार पर जजमेंट देता है या जस्टिस? और वह भी किस कीमत पर?
    संविधान को बनाने वाली समिति वी.आइ. पी. लोगों की थी. उनको गरीब आदमी की दशा का पता ही कहाँ था! उनमे वह धार ही कहाँ थी कि विदेशी दासता से पूरी तरह मुक्त होकर इस देश की आत्मा को चित्रित करने वाला संविधान बना पाते. वे तो केवल "इधर की ईंट उधर का रोड़ा, भानुमती ने कुनबा जोड़ा" ही कर सके. और उस संविधान में भी इतने संशोधन हो चुके कि कौन-सी धारा के विरोध में कौन सी धारा है - इसे कहना नामुमकिन है. संविधान समाजवाद की बात भी करता है और पूँजीवाद को लागू भी करता है. शब्दों में सबको शिक्षा की भी चर्चा करता है और व्यवहार में सम्पत्ति के अधिकार की भी, विरासत के हक की भी. वाह रे संविधान और वाह रे उसे लागू करने का नाटक करने वाली आपकी सम्मानित संसद, कार्यपालिका और न्यायपालिका! कैसा मजाक बना कर छोड़ दिया है आपके पवित्र संविधान ने इस देश की स्वतन्त्रता का. ऐसे संविधान का आदर आप कीजिए. मैं तो उसमे केवल संशोधन नहीं करना चाहता, उसे पूरी तरह से बदल देना चाहता हूँ. हमारे असली जनतन्त्र का संविधान आज के इस घोर जनविरोधी धनतन्त्र के संविधान से पूरी तरह अलग ही होगा.
    और हमारा तिरंगा - 'विजयी विश्व' कैसे हो सकेगा! विश्व विजयी होने का मतलब होता है साम्राज्यवाद. और क्या भारत साम्राज्यवादी बनेगा, तो हम को दूसरे देशों को गुलाम नहीं बनाना पड़ेगा. क्या किसी को भी गुलाम बनाना अच्छी बात है? फिर तो हम में और अंग्रेज़ों में क्या फ़र्क रह जायेगा? अरे सब देशों की आज़ादी का सम्मान करना सीखिए, मेरे दोस्त! विश्वविजयी बनने के सपने देखना अच्छी बात नहीं है. "वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं" भी तो हमारे पुरखों ने ही सिखाया था. परस्पर प्यार और भाईचारा निश्चय ही एक की विजय और शेष की पराजय से बड़ी चीज़ें हैं.

  2. गिरिजेश तिवारी जी की टिप्पणी बहुत महत्वपूर्ण है. खोट संविधाने में नहीं बल्कि नियमों में है जो अंग्रेज़ों के बनाए हुए हैं. प्रशिक्षण भी अंग्रेज़ों के मॉड्यूल का है. ब्यूरोक्रेसी और पुलिस का व्यवहार आप देख लें. सब जगह आपको अंग्रेजों की छाप मिल जाएगी.
    असीम त्रिवेदी से कुछ छवियाँ बनाने में भूल हुई हो सकती है लेकिन उस पर देशद्रोह का आरोप गलत है.
    कृपया कमेंट से word verification हटा दें.

  3. असीम त्रिवेदी का पक्ष सिर्फ इसलिए लिया जाना चाहिए कि यहां अभिव्यक्ति की आजादी एक अधिकार तौर पर बचा रहे। इसके अलावा और कोई वजह नहीं है कि असीम त्रिवेदी के कार्टूनों और खुद की भगत सिंह से तुलना की मूर्खतापूर्ण कोशिशों पर रूमानी हुआ जाए। लेकिन अगर केवल अभिव्यक्ति की आजादी के अधिकार का ही सवाल है तो असीम त्रिवेदी के मुकाबले हरीश यादव को कौन याद कर रहा ? क्या यह इंदौर और बंबई का फर्क ?

    प्रचार के भूखे असीम त्रिवेदी के बरक्स एक मोबाइल फोन तक नहीं रखने वाले और विनम्र हरीश यादव सिर्फ लोकतंत्र और अभिव्यक्ति की अधिकार की बात उठाते हैं। उनके लिए यही मांग क्यों वाजिब नहीं ? लेकिन तब शायद वैसे ज्यादातर लोगों का चेहरा खुल जाए जो असीम त्रिवेदी के लिए जार-जार रो रहे हैं...

    हरीश यादव नरेंद्र मोदी का कार्टून बनाने के आरोप में हर पखवाड़े इंदौर की एक अदालत में चक्कर काट रहे हैं और लगभग एक साल बीत जाने के बावजूद पुलिस ने उनके खिलाफ कोई चार्जशीट पेश नहीं की है।


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