When Aseem Trivedi walked out of the imposing Arthur Road Jail gate in Mumbai on Wednesday, the stir his arrest had created was evident in the mikes, cameras and the mediapersons all jostling to get close to him. Clearly, if he had something to say, there were many who were eager to listen.
|Aseem Trivedi after his release
from Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai
Trivedi, who was charged with sedition for his cartoons and arrested on Saturday, used the opportunity to launch his unrelenting attack on the antiquated sedition laws of the country.
He wants the offending Section 124-A (sedition law) repealed. It is not merely about dropping sedition charges against him, he said. “The section should be withdrawn from the Indian Penal Code.
I was very clear from the beginning that I do not want to seek bail because I do not think that I am guilty. We should have the freedom to express ourselves which is guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.
Then, accompanied by members of India Against Corruption (IAC), including Mayank Gandhi and Alok Dixit, he went to pay his respects to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, at Buddh Vihar, a small temple near the jail, dedicated to the man who drafted the Indian Constitution.
Here, he thanked the media for its support, before continuing his tirade against the sedition laws. “The law of sedition was opposed by our national heroes like Gandhiji and Nehru. This was enacted in the British Raj to curb the voice and expression of our freedom fighters who were against the Raj. It is an irrelevant law now,” he said.
Any art form reflects society, Trivedi pointed out. He compared the expression of any art by an artist to that of an image in the mirror. “We know that mirrors do not lie when we see our image in them.
Any art is an image and reflection of the society. If we want to see ourselves clearly as a society, this mirror should be huge. I will keep contributing to make this mirror as big as possible, so we can see ourselves clearly,” he persisted.
He argued that if we do not like the image in the mirror, it will not help breaking it. We have to work towards changing the image and not the mirror. “Similarly, we are not ridiculing anyone by our art. Through our art, we are showing what is happening.
What is happening in Parliament is ridiculous and not the cartoons that depict it. What the ministers end up doing inside the house is ‘making mockery’ and not what we sketch, paint and draw.
|Aseem Trivedi sketches for Mirror
If their behaviour changes, our work will change... the image can be pleasing only then,” he explained.
After a quick lunch at Gandhi’s Byculla office he took five minutes to sketch a cartoon for Mirror.
The quality of Trivedi’s cartoons may be up for debate, with some seeing them as visual translation of angst, rather than ingenious satirical interpretation of all things going wrong with society, but his answers at the full-house press conference were pretty clear headed.
Harping on the word ‘raajdroh’, Trivedi said that in a country where ‘lokshaahi’ was prevalent, the very word ‘raajdroh’ made you feel like you lived in a country ruled by kings. He called the section “an illegal law”.
Refusing to be drawn into a discussion on the Danish cartoonist who drew a sketch of Mohammad that raised a furore in the Islamic world he retorted, “I don’t know about this Danish cartoonist or the cartoon he made. I made a cartoon about censorship. But I really don’t want to talk about this since it deals with religion and social issues and we are here to discuss something else altogether.”
He was ready for the next quest on his cartoon of convicted terrorist Ajmal Kasab urinating on the Constitution which is being perceived as anti-Dalit. “I have the greatest respect for Dr Ambedkar and the Constitution he drafted.
I was trying to say that when a terrorist like Kasab continues to dodge his fate despite being sentenced to death after a fair trial that went right up to the Supreme Court, I believe we are insulting the Constitution that Dr Ambedkar drafted,” said Trivedi.
A couple of days after the Supreme Court stated that making guidelines for the press would not be possible and that media houses need to be aware of their own limits, the jury is still out on whether cartoonists require a Laxman rekha.
The man in the middle of all the storm, Aseem Trivedi, categorically told Mirror that his version of freedom of expression was one which had no limits or conditions attached to it.
However some of the senior cartoonists of the country differ. VG Narendra, founder of the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Cartoonists — the country’s first umbrella body of cartoonists — told Mirror that a self-imposed laxaman rekha is needed.
“It is a complex issue. There obviously cannot be a written rule that these are the topics that would be off-limits. It is something that has to be self-imposed. The general rule is that any cartoon while depicting a current problem satirically should not hurt sentiments of anybody,” said Narendra.
For Narendra, items like the national flag, the Ashoka chakra, the Ashoka emblem, the Parliament are part of the list that he believes are sacrosanct. “These are symbols of a nation and making cartoons that show them in bad light might hurt sentiments of a lot of people.
However slapping somebody with sedition charges is outrageous. It just goes to show that our politicians are increasingly becoming intolerant towards criticism,” said Narendra.
For Dr Hemant Morparia, one of the country’s best-loved cartoonists, cartooning is about creativity done cleverly so that it stays within the confines of the law while at the same time conveying the message.
“Any Laxman rekha has to be rooted in reality. It depends on where your cartoon is being published, what is the reader profile. It is these factors that decide how far you can go in your cartoons,” said Morparia.