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Anti-corruption cartoonist arrested on sedition charges

September 09, 2012 12:45 IST
Anti-corruption cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested at the Bandra Kurla Complex police station in Mumbai on Saturday, on charges of sedition (under IPC 124A), violation of section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, and the Prevention of Insults of National Honour Act, 1971.

The arrest took place as a result of a non-bailable warrant issued against him on the basis of several complaints filed at the BKC police station for cartoons that he had displayed at the Jan Lokpal agitation in Mumbai in December 2011. The cartoons were also available on his website, www.cartoonsagainstcorruption, whose registration was suspended by web company Big Rock after a notice from the Mumbai police in December 2011.

Speaking on the phone from Mumbai just before his arrest, Trivedi explained that the cartoons intended to display the insult to the nation that is being done by politicians, and do not seek to insult national symbols in any way.

The controversial cartoons are still available at www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.com. One cartoon shows 'Mother India' dressed in a tri-colour sari with politicians and bureaucrats about to assault her, with a gleeful beast standing by described as 'Corruption'. One cartoon shows India's national emblem, the Ashoka Lions, with foxes rather than lions. At the bottom of the emblem the words 'Satyamev Jayate' are replaced with 'Brashtamev Jayate' (meaning corruption alone triumphs) and a danger sign.  

A cartoon calling for the "right to recall" elected representatives in mid-term shows Parliament as a sewage collection centre into which waste from several toilets, or polling booths, is flowing. Another cartoon simply shows Parliament as a 'national toilet'. Another cartoon shows 26/11 gunman Ajmal Kasab as a dog peeing on the Constitution of India. Some cartoons target Congress leader Digvijaya Singh for his statements against the Jan Lokpal movement.

Trivedi has for the moment refused to hire a lawyer and does not intend to apply for bail. "I want to first see how a British-era law like sedition is going to be applied against a cartoonist in free India," he said on the phone. He was to be produced before Bandra holiday court No. 9 on Sunday.

Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, punishes persons for "sending messages" online that are "grossly offensive" or have a "menacing character".

The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, provides for punishment up to three years in jail and a fine for insulting or defacing the Indian flag and the Indian Constitution. It adds, however, 'Comments expressing disapprobation or criticism of the Constitution or of the Indian National Flag or of any measures of the government with a view to obtain an amendment of the Constitution of India or an alteration of the Indian National Flag by lawful means do not constitute an offence under this section.'

Trivedi says he is within his right as an artist to use national symbols to show how they are being insulted by politicians. He was a freelance cartoonist working with local dailies in Kanpur before he got involved with the Anna Hazare movement.

After his website was shut down in December 2011, Trivedi became associated with the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption movement and also started an independent initiative to campaign against internet censorship. Called 'Save Your Voice', he travelled across India to raise awareness against the IT Rules 2011.

Trivedi also sat on a seven-day hunger strike in Delhi's Jantar Mantar to protest the IT Rules in May this year, and displayed anti-corruption cartoons at the Anna Hazare protest in Jantar Mantar in August 2012.

The Virginia, US-based Cartoonists Rights Network International has named him the 2012 recipient of its 'Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award'. He is sharing the award with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat who was abducted and badly beaten by the Syrian regime in August last year. Trivedi will not be able to travel to receive the award as the United States has denied him a visa. He is, however, scheduled to travel to Vienna to participate in an art event later this month.

Shivam Vij in New Delhi