Cartoonist in India Campaigns Against Corruption and Censorship
Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi has been charged with treason and insulting national symbols for political cartoons he drew and uploaded to his website, which was shut down without warning in December. Trivedi says he has neither been arrested nor detained, but while the court cases against him are pending he has fought to defend his work and continue his campaign against corruption and censorship in India.
The cartoons in question parody India’s national symbols, and are drawn to make a point on corruption in the government. One cartoon redraws India’s national emblem of the four Sarnath lions of King Asoka that sit above the motto “Satyamev Jayate” (truth alone shall triumph) as bloodthirsty wolves underscored with the motto “Bhrashtamev Jayate” (long live corruption). Another offending cartoon depicts the Indian parliament building as a toilet, and yet another features the “Mother of India,” wearing a tri-color sari, about to be raped by a character labeled “Corruption.”
Trivedi’s opponents argue that although cartoonists may be permitted to mock politicians, it is a crime to mock the national emblem, the parliament, and the flag. This was the argument of lawyer Rajendra Pratap Pandey, who filed the complaint that prompted the December 27 shutdown of Trivedi’s website. Trivedi has since found a new host for the site in Google’s Blogspot.
After his original site was shut down Trivedi learned of the pending charges against him, he says, “though some media reports and calls from media groups.” In January the Beed District Court of Maharastra accused Trivedi of treason (section 124 of the Indian Penal Code). Additional charges were brought against him by the Mumbai High Court for insulting India’s national symbols, under Indian Penal Code (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act 2005.
I am reacting [to the corruption] in my own way. Someone is protesting. Somebody is a doing hunger strike in India. [As for me,] I am a cartoonist.
If found guilty of publishing cartoons in violation of this penal code Trivedi can face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 5,000 rupees (approx. $100). Although the trials were originally scheduled for early February, the cases are still pending and Trivedi has yet to receive trial notices.
Meanwhile, Trivedi has found supporting lawyers, and he fights back through social activism and his campaign against corruption on Facebook and Twitter. Aseem Trivedi has also launched a campaign for online freedom of expression in India through a website called “Save Your Voice: A Movement Against Web Censorship”, and its Facebook page.
In the upcoming trials Trivedi must not only defend the content of his cartoons, but also their right to be published online in a country that has been called the world’s largest democracy, yet still remains on the bottom half of Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.
On January 11, Aseem Trivedi gave a telephone interview to Cartoonist Rights Network International, saying: “I am democratic. I am patriotic. I have a twenty-four year life without any charges of corruption. I am only making cartoons. … I am talking about nationalism. I love my country. I am reacting [to the corruption] in my own way. Someone is protesting. Somebody is a doing hunger strike in India. [As for me,] I am a cartoonist.”