Aseem Trivedi

From the BBC news today (abbreviated):

Mr Trivedi was arrested on Saturday for a series of cartoons lampooning politicians.

In one of his cartoons the customary three lions in India’s national emblem are replaced with three wolves, their teeth dripping blood, with the message “Long live corruption” written underneath. Another cartoon depicts the Indian parliament as a giant toilet bowl.

Here’s a sample of Aseem Trivedi’s anti-corruption cartoons:

[Trivedi’s website  Cartoons Against Corruption was taken down at the request of the Indian government. I pulled the images from an alternate site created in response to the censorship. (http://cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.com).]

I was encouraged by the tone of the BBC article, clearly condemning the arrest…

Mr Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, asked how drawing a cartoon could be considered a crime, and said politicians should learn to accept criticism. “Either the allegation is true, in which case you deserve it; or it is false, in which case you ignore it. This kind of behaviour is not acceptable in a democracy,” he said.

… but shocked by the prevalence of Indians attacking Trivedi’s cartoons and suggesting that he belongs in jail. The prevailing attitude of these dissenters seemed to be that defaming national symbols was unacceptable. Their comments suggested that these cartoons attacked the identity and  pride of all Indians.

India’s ubiquitous three-lion emblem appears with the phrase “Satyamev Jayate” — The Truth Only Triumphs. Trivedi’s three wolves version replaces the word “Truth” with “Corruption”: Bhrashtamev Jayate.

They are right… to an extent. They are entitled to the opinion that this satire has crossed some line, and if they feel directly attacked or insulted, that is their right. It is likely Trivedi’s intent to reproach not just politicians but each Indian  — for corruption in India goes beyond politics and infects the every-day life of each citizen.

They are entitled to their opinions, but Trivedi is likewise entitled to his cartoons.

What appalls me is the viciousness of their response, the militant idea that by drawing these cartoons Trivedi belongs in some sort of terrible hell, that he should be prosecuted and convicted for sedition.

The world over this echoes the same old debate about the right to free speech. The Greeks believed in free speech in the 5th century BC. The French Revolution fought for Trivedi’s right to draw his cartoons in 1789. It was more than a century ago that Voltaire argued for Trivedi’s right to state his opinion, even if he felt it was disgusting.

Yet here we are, in 2012, in the world’s largest democracy, charging a cartoonist for sedition for his bold call to action against corruption. We are tearing down his website and applauding the government for censoring his ideas and for putting him in jail.

Is that okay? Did this man go too far in his attacks of the government? Should he be allowed to slap the Indian identity in the face with his cartoons? Where do we draw the line, and on which side of the line do we place his cartoons?

Rushdie, the famous censored Indian writer, discusses this issue brilliantly throughout his essays in Step Across This Line, which I would recommend to anyone. His ideas on censorship also appeared recently in the New Yorker, in which he concludes:

Even more serious is the growing acceptance of the don’t-rock-the-boat response to those artists who do rock it, the growing agreement that censorship can be justified when certain interest groups, or genders, or faiths declare themselves affronted by a piece of work. Great art, or, let’s just say, more modestly, original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge. Originality is dangerous. It challenges, questions, overturns assumptions, unsettles moral codes, disrespects sacred cows or other such entities. It can be shocking, or ugly, or, to use the catch-all term so beloved of the tabloid press, controversial. And if we believe in liberty, if we want the air we breathe to remain plentiful and breathable, this is the art whose right to exist we must not only defend, but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.

-Salman Rushdie,
“On Censorship”, New Yorker, May 2012.

Advertisements

One comment

  1. Pingback: Lesson the first. | notquitesocalm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s