“First they ignore you …
then they laugh at you …
then they fight you …
and then you win”.
Mumbai, September 13, 2012: This quote of Mahatma Gandhi is the favourite quotation of Aseem Trivedi, 25, the cartoonist who has become a celebrity hero overnight following his recent arrest, if one goes through his profile on Facebook. This quote can be certainly attributed to him, as Trivedi has won hands down and must be having the last laugh having become a national hero, courtesy overreaction by the government sending him to jail on charges of sedition for uploading derogatory cartoons on his web portal.
Naturally, one is tempted to ask why the government acted so imprudently making a hero out of someone like Trivedi especially at a time when the issue of freedom of speech and reasonable restriction is going on in the Supreme Court. The votaries of freedom of free speech and expression have charged the government of resorting to witch-hunt to browbeat crusaders of corruption and sought his unconditional release. Needless to say Trivedi has walked out of Arthur Road Jail of Mumbai to a hero’s welcome, his head held high. Apparently, the government developed cold feet – following public outcry, condemnation by media & other political parties and by the strong stand taken by Trivedi himself – and released him.
Trivedi, an activist of India against Corruption (IAC) who was picked up by Mumbai Police last Saturday following a non-bailable warrant against him for sedition, was freed from jail on 12th September, but not before raising many unpalatable questions, including a debate on the call for repeal of IPC 124A relating to sedition and the motive of the government.
Mumbai police had arrested Trivedi last weekend after a city lawyer, who is said to be a member of Republic Party of India (also a law student), had filed a complaint in December 2011 and charged him with sedition for insulting national emblems and the constitution during the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare. The complainant had made a specific mention about Trivedi’s cartoon depicting the national emblem with three wolves instead of lions and the words Bhrashtameva Jayate (corruption only triumphs) in place of Satyameva Jayate. One of his cartoons shows parliament building as a lavatory buzzing with flies.
Since a complaint was filed, the government could have filed a charge sheet and left the matter for the court to decide, instead of arresting and jailing him – a move which has severely backfired on the government. Though the constitution ensures freedom of speech and expression it has certainly laid down that every citizen must respect the national symbols. In the case of Trivedi it should have been left to the court to decide whether he insulted national symbols or not.
Following Trivedi’s arrest there is every reason to believe that the scandal-hit government was trying to muzzle the voices of anti-corruption activists involved in the crusade against corruption spearheaded by Anna Hazare. It also shows that the government has become intolerant towards criticism, which is an essential part of parliamentary democracy. It may be recalled here that Trivedi was closely involved with Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption wherein many of his cartoons were displayed during the protests.
To make matters worse for the government Aseem Trivedi turned out to be a tough nut to crack. If the television images of a tousle-haired, bearded and slogan shouting Trivedi were an epitome of courage and conviction even as he was bundled into the patrol car, his intransigent and no-nonsense attitude to refuse the services of a lawyer and not to seek bail endeared him to those who thought him as a new youth icon who made the government bend backwards. In fact Aseem Trivedi was granted bail following a PIL filed by a lawyer and he agreed to come out of the jail only after Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil assured him that sedition charges against him would be reviewed.
Aseem Trivedi’s arrest and subsequent release raises many questions especially with regard to the political intolerance exhibited by our politicians whose scandals speak louder than their actions both inside and outside the parliament. Trivedi is the new face of our fight against corruption and he has shown that government intolerance has no place in our democracy. He has also shown that the government’s efforts to smother dissenting voices will not be taken lying down.
Though the issue of offensive cartoons that rocked the parliament a few months ago, forcing the NCERT to purge them can be viewed as a victory of intolerance, Trivedi’s gumption that forced the government to release him from jail can be seen as a victory for all those who value freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right.
Though Trivedi was intensely involved in Anna Hazar’s crusade against corruption where cartoons were used during protests under the series “cartoons against corruption”, he remained a non-entity till now. Ironically it was his recent arrest that has catapulted him to national fame, signifying his involvement in the crusade against corruption.
Today, thanks to the government’s desperate bid to smother public opinion by way of arresting him, Trivedi, a not-so-known cartoonist has become a youth celebrity, a national hero, a symbol of free speech and a rallying point for all those who are leading a crusade against corruption. Just as his favourite quote says, Trivedi has won!