Had a politician said that parliament is a toilet bowl, would we accept it? Had a separatist leader talked about the ‘gang-rape of Mother India’, would we keep quiet? Why then, is cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, a good cause to espouse despite such depictions? The very people who want a closure to the 2008 Mumbai attacks do not see the contradiction when he portrays Ajmal Kasab as a dog pissing on a copy of the Indian Constitution.
Trivedi’s cartoons have to be judged by political standards for he does not merely caricature national symbols, but subverts them. It is disingenuous to hide behind the skirt of artistic expression and freedom of speech. These cartoons were flashed at the India Against Corruption (IAC) rally in Mumbai that had met with a tepid response. A police complaint was filed on December 30, 2011. Nothing happened. The cops could not trace him.
The case resurfaces after nine months. He is arrested. A new protest hero is born.
Is it not possible that someone is trying to resuscitate a dying movement? There is no suggestion that he was hiding. It is typical liberal fallacy to see every ripple as a storm of dissent. Unloaded guns are as hollow as vacuous nationalism. Let us not forget that he is part of a politically-active, sometimes disruptive and opportunistic group. The premise of Team Anna, right from its inception, was to be a supra-legal back door force.
It needs to pump up some adrenaline. People like Arvind Kejriwal are quick to jump in and connect Trivedi’s cartoons to more recent scams, despite the time lag: “I know Aseem personally. He is not a traitor. Traitors are those who clash in parliament or those who sell off coal blocks at a pittance.” Team Anna has not exposed any scam; it basks in reflected glory.
This backdrop is essential to understand manufactured controversies. We conveniently forget the other charges against Trivedi under the Information Technology Act and the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act. Sedition is the only one discussed. He said, “If I am booked under sedition for doing service to the nation then I will continue to do so.” In what manner are those cartoons serving the country? They demean the Constitution that is the fulcrum of the nation, critique specific politicians, parties, events, scams, even blind patriots on payroll. But gnaw at the edifice that gives you a foothold and you lose the rights you demand of it. He refused the right to bail that he is entitled to.
Quite obviously, it helped those agitating on his behalf to shout slogans, “Main hoon Aseem” and “Inquilab zindabad”. The media is invoking Jawaharlal Nehru’s opposition to the Sedition Law, forgetting that in 1951, India was still basking in new independence from a colonial force and did not have to deal with protests of this kind from within.
Sedition is not treason. But using two ‘T’ words together, gets more mileage and Trivedi is campy about it: “I am a terrorist if Gandhi and Azad were terrorists. I am proud of what I did, will continue it. I will continue to remain in jail till a dictatorial law such as sedition is repealed.”
Imprisonment offers a moral paradigm. He conveyed to one of his colleagues that “he prefers to be jailed than live in a farcical freedom where activists are targeted and freedom of speech is denied”. This is particularly elitist when there are a number of people who are rounded up on mere suspicion and for whom entry into the hallowed precincts of prison is not a matter of choice.
His bluster is well-timed. Recently, India banned 250 websites. The select space-hoggers’ coterie gets uncomfortable about this. So, every ‘victim’ lands up in the echo chamber. However, anyone questioning their dissent will not be tolerated. HL Mencken probably did not imagine that the “fundamentalist mind” would get such a spin.
In this self-righteous cage, one version of ‘truth’ is used to legitimise every possible anti-thought, when it might not necessarily be so. It is amusing that those who decry facile symbolism have made Aseem Trivedi into a symbol.
(Read: “Protest or pique?”)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2012.
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