Twenty-seven-year old Amit Arvind Katarnaware who filed the complaint against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi told The Hindu on Sunday that he was offended by the insult to the Constitution and to the Ashoka pillar. The pillar is the symbol of Emperor Ashoka, who is revered by Buddhists. A Central Railway employee, he said he did not belong to any political party and was an independent activist who fought for human rights.
“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,” he said. His complaint also named Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and others from the IAC, but the main culprit is [Mr.] Trivedi, he pointed out.
“The Constitution is above everything and the police had not taken any action. Two weeks ago I went and asked the police why nothing was done,” he said. A third-year student of Legal sciences and law at a Navi Mumbai college, Mr. Katarnaware said everyone had a right to protest, but freedom of speech cannot violate the law of the land.
Meanwhile, the IAC decried Mr. Trivedi’s arrest. Preeti Sharma Menon, an IAC spokesperson told The Hindu that Aseem Trivedi was an integral part of the IAC agitation and had put up hoardings of his cartoons at the Bandra rally last December. However, the police shut down his website and removed the cartoons from the grounds. He has been fighting against this kind of censorship since a while, she said.
Ms Sharma said that neither were the IAC members given a copy of the police complaint, nor were they 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,” she said.
Activist Alok Dixit said he too did not get a copy of the police complaint against Mr. Trivedi and the police were extremely uncooperative. After much struggle, he managed to send some fresh clothes to the jailed cartoonist but was not allowed to speak to him, he said. “He is being treated like a criminal. Aseem is a political cartoonist and he has been given an award with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat by the Cartoonists Rights Network International. Both of them have been given the 2012 ‘Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award’. Mr Trivedi was to go to Washington DC to accept this award but was denied a visa,” Mr Dixit said. A scheduled trip to Vienna to attend the International Art Marathon will also not be possible as the police have indicated he will not be allowed to travel.
Mr. Trivedi who has refused a lawyer, has been quoted as saying before his arrest that he has nothing to say in his defence, and that he prefers to be jailed than live in a farcical freedom where activists are targeted and freedom of speech is denied.
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.
The controversial cartoons
Mr. Trivedi’s cartoons on corruption and the complicity of the political class are available on his new website. Titled ‘The Dirty Picture of India’, one of the cartoons depicts the “Gang Rape of Mother India” where a politician, a bureaucrat and a devil symbolising corruption are seen standing around ‘Mother India’, as the politician is saying “come on hurry up.” Another cartoon titled ‘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’.
Another cartoon depicts 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab as a dog, urinating on the Constitution of India and in another the Indian Parliament is depicted as a giant toilet bowl. Mr. Trivedi has critiqued the national bird too, showing it as a vulture, while the national animal is dubbed “netasaur”.
Sections and charges
Mr. Trivedi has been charged with sedition, a non-bailable and cognisable offence under Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code, for which he can imprisoned for life and fined, or with imprisonment up to three years.
Under Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, Mr. Trivedi can be punished for three years and fined for misusing the computer to send messages that are “grossly offensive or have menacing character,” and for using electronic mail or electronic message for causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.
He can also be punished for up to three years and fined, under Section 2 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act 1971 which punishes, “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.”