Monday, September 10, 2012

Cartooning the Constitution: Look before you leak

By Farzana Versey
When I say that you cannot be proud of something you are born in or with unless you contribute to it, including religion and the nation, I am asked, “So you don’t get goosebumps during the national anthem?” This is not the response of only the rightwing, but also centrists, and libertarians. My goosebumps for anything are a personal matter. Flashing fidelity is an insecure reaction, in personal relationships and in patriotism. 

When a political cartoonist from the anti-corruption movement shows the Indian Parliament as a toilet bowl, should not the response be the same? If he depicts the symbols of the Indian Constitution in a manner that insults the symbols rather than pulling up those who abuse it, then why is he held up as an example of freedom of expression? 

Aseem Trivedi is arrested. He refuses a lawyer. He has nothing to say in his defence.Reportedly, “he prefers to be jailed than live in a farcical freedom where activists are targeted and freedom of speech is denied”.

The farcical freedom he talks about has occupied grounds and done little else. IAC cannot take credit for any expose of scams. His stance is no different from the cries of “jail bharo”. This will help the movement come back into the limelight. 

We do know that sedition charges don’t stick. But those who are charged with it get sympathy and a free ticket to ‘victim’ heaven. Has anything happened to Arundhati Roy? Isn’t Dr. Binayak Sen happily sitting in the Planning Commission, appointed by the very government that had sentenced him? 

The following are Trivedi's cartoons and what they say and what they mean:

  • “Gang Rape of Mother India” shows a politician, a bureaucrat and a devil (corruption) standing around ‘Mother India’; the politician is saying “come on hurry up”.

Besides the obvious crassness, the use or rape and mother/woman are exceedingly sexist. The “hurry up” gives it hormonal legitimacy, even when trying to make a statement. The message that comes across is the enjoyment on the faces of the ‘characters’. This is not the Bible, where the Devil can be the tempter. 

Wasn’t there objection to artist M.F.Husain depicting something similar? 

  • ‘New National Symbols’ shows the Ashoka Pillar with three wolves, their jaws dripping blood with the caption “Wolfs with the sign of Danger,” and ‘Satyameva Jayate’ replaced with ‘Bhrashtameva Jayate’.

Why does the cartoonist not name politicians or caricature specific people, besides working on his spelling? It is easy to throw stones at inanimate monuments and slogans. But, then, the IAC movement has been a lot of hot air, hitting out at totems, for naming people would be naming their hidden allies.

  • Ajmal Kasab is depicted as a dog, urinating on the Constitution of India.

What does this say? There is a line “Who is responsible?” Do people supporting him realise what this means? That the Indian Constitution is responsible for terror attacks? 

It is obvious that Trivedi lacks subtlety. He is not an independent voice. His series of cartoons are politically-motivated as they are under the banner of India Against Corruption. 

An IAC spokesperson said that they were not given copies of his arrest and not allowed to meet him:

“The police kept pushing him and once his head banged against the jeep. This is not the way to treat a political cartoonist. He is not a terrorist.”

The police attitude is uncalled for, and they must register a complaint. It seems it is easier to use the media as Mayank Gandhi of the IAC does:

"The case has been registered simply because Aseem had participated in the BKC protest organized by Anna Hazare and had raised his voice against corruption. So the government is trying to scuttle his protest in this manner."

If his arrest is due to political reasons, one wonders why it took so long for the police to act. Here is the reason:

A senior police officer told The Hindu that the complaint against Mr. Trivedi was filed on December 30, 2011 for his posters and cartoons which insulted the national symbols of honour. When asked why the police acted only now, he said that Mr. Trivedi could not be found and it was only 20 days ago that his location was tracked through his mobile phone.

This does not ring true. The noise against the ruling party only proves that a movement that is now fragmented and quite on a limb is looking for sustenance, and some media coverage. Who made this move? 

Twenty-seven-year old Amit Arvind Katarnaware, who has no political affiliations: 

“When I saw the cartoons and posters at the IAC agitation, I was shocked that the Constitution was insulted and the posters were trying to divide communities.”

His complaint named Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and others from the IAC, but Trivedi was the prime target. 

Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju said:

“From the information I have gathered, the cartoonist did nothing illegal, and in fact, arresting him was an illegal act. A wrongful arrest is a serious crime under the Indian Penal Code Section 342, and it is those who arrested him who should be arrested. Police officers, who obey such illegal orders of politicians, should be put on trial and given harsh punishment, just like the Nazi officials at the Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal.”

This is characteristically dramatic, and contradictory to his earlier position on self-censorship in the media and social networks. 

He makes a puerile comment:

“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.”

What exactly does this denote?  

There is no allegation against an individual or organisation. It is against corruption and it makes the Indian Constitution responsible for it. 

As regards the law, he knows more about it. What about this:

“Whoever in any public place or in any other place within public view burns, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples upon or otherwise shows disrespect to or brings into contempt (whether by words, either spoken or written, or by acts) the Indian National Flag or the Constitution of India or any part thereof.” (Section 2 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act 1971)

For a few days, there will be the usual drum-beating on Aseem Trivedi’s behalf. He is as much of an “activist”, as Kabir Bedi, Shekhar Kapur, Anupam Kher, Om Puri are overnight saviours of India from corruption. His dishevelled look is good photo-op. He looks the part of ‘What Young India Wants’ – a few warts they can take shots at in the bowling ally of their exclusive clubs. 

(c) Farzana Versey (Re-published with permission by YLH & Co.)

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