Thursday, September 13, 2012

Aseem sees beginning of debate on sedition charge

MUMBAI, September 13, 2012

Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on Wednesday thanked the media for supporting him, without which "this fight would never have been this big."

"I did expect so much support. People all over the country have spoken out and begun a debate. Even [filmmaker] Mahesh Bhatt and [civil rights activist] Binayak Sen supported the cause of freedom of speech. Arvind Kejriwal came from Delhi," he told the media at Buddha Vihar here after his release from jail.

Invoking Gandhiji and Nehru's opposition to sedition, he said, "For a long time there was no talk on it. Finally, a debate has begun."

To a question on his cartoons, he said, "I am surprised when they are referred to as 'this type of cartoons.' Even a child can understand that it resulted from a sense of patriotism. They were made to make people understand what is happening in the country."

"Greater role for art"

Mr. Trivedi batted for a greater role for art which, he said, mirrored society. "The better you want to be, the more you want to progress, the bigger your mirror should be. You will have to enlarge the mirror of society."

Later, at a meet organised by the Press Club, Mumbai, which was attended by Dr. Sen, the cartoonist advocated more freedom in art and literature.

Asked whether his cartoons crossed the limits, he said: "Bhagat Singh had said if the deaf want their voice to be heard, they have to raise it. When he exploded a bomb in the Assembly, his aim was not to spread terror. He had distributed pamphlets containing his thoughts. But the British government was too deaf to hear. So a blast was necessary."

The cartoonist denied insulting the national honour. "When wads of currency are waved inside Parliament, scams worth crores of rupees are carried out, when parliamentarians watch blue films in the House and then you decide who is insulting the national symbols. Why are you asking me?"

"I don't think I have made any mistake," he said referring to the cartoon showing 26/11 attacker Ajmal Kasab urinating on the Constitution. He vowed to continue drawing many more critical cartoons in the future and of the Mumbai Police and the government.

He said he had decided to accept the bail after assurances from the Home Department and the High Court order on his release.

Vowing to take forward the struggle for abolishing the sedition law, he said, "The fight will now be stronger. The aim of the law was to suppress Indian revolutionaries. Gandhiji was against the law, which curbed the freedom of Indians. Nehru wanted this law to be done away with. Gandhiji, [Balgangadhar] Tilak, [Veer] Savarkar, all were slapped with sedition. Were they all anti-nationals?"

Asked about the other charges such as insulting the national honour, he said, "I don't agree with the other charges against me. I have a defence for them against me. I will cooperate with court cases."

With the advent of social media, the fight for the protection of freedom of speech and liberty had become everyone's battle. "There are two main points of this battle. One is the fight against Section 124(A) [of the Indian Penal Code] and second is for freedom of speech and expression. It is important that we should be allowed to say what we have to say so that the government hears our voice," he said.

Asked why he went to pay obeisance to Dr. Ambedkar at Buddha Vihar, he said: "I had gone to tell them [the complainants] that I respect Dr. Ambedkar and his fight for justice. I am not against him. I don't think my cartoons have insulted Dalits."

Repeal the Act: Sen

Dr. Sen refused to give his opinion on Mr. Trivedi's cartoons. "Our common cause is fighting against the law of sedition. I am of the belief that the law is a hindrance to the achievement of democracy in our country. Therefore, we want the Act repealed," he said, pointing to the many cases especially in tribal pockets where people have been imprisoned under the Act "for suppressing their civil rights."

"Sedition law is being consciously misused across the country. In various parts, many are languishing in prisons. It is mind-boggling that the government can do something to that magnitude for suppressing the dissenting voices of people."

The rights activist appealed to everyone to join the cause of sending a petition to Parliament with one million signatures seeking the abolition of the Act.

India Against Corruption coordinator Mayank Gandhi termed Mr. Trivedi's release his personal victory and the victory of the media and democracy. But he was apprehensive of Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil's promise of withdrawing the sedition charge against the cartoonist.

"We fear if the commitment will be honoured in time," he said.

IPI decries action

The International Press Institute (IPI) has condemned Mr. Trivedi's arrest.

"IPI is gravely concerned that a cartoonist has been imprisoned on charges of sedition," IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said. "In any healthy democracy, all media must enjoy the right to criticise and lampoon public officials and corruption..."

IPI's Indian National Committee chair N. Ravi, a director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd, which owns The Hindu, said: "It was ironic that when the cartoonist was seeking to depict how the criminal and the corrupt were desecrating national symbols, he himself should be charged with desecrating them. The basic thrust of the cartoons was to mock at the pretensions of politicians and the bureaucrats, and while one may disagree with the message or with the mode of depiction, there is certainly no cause for regarding them as criminal acts."

He added: "The Supreme Court has approved the position that such acts must be judged from the standpoint 'of reasonable, strong-minded, firm and courageous men, and not those of weak and vacillating minds, nor of those who scent danger in every hostile point of view'... It is shocking that in cases like this involving basic freedoms, the police should act mechanically on a complaint and arrest the cartoonist, ignoring the law as laid down by the courts."
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