From satire to sedition: the underbelly of Indian democracy
Images of a bespectacled, bearded and tousle-haired young man, waving his arms in defiance as police tried to shove him into a car, have taken Indian media by storm.
The arrest of Aseem Trivedi on charges of sedition for having drawn satirical cartoons, including one that depicts the parliament building as a lavatory buzzing with flies, is being seen as an attempt to stifle the freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right under the Indian constitution.
The episode has catapulted the hitherto unknown 25-year-old to the position of a national hero, with his cartoons echoing popular resentment against a scandal-plagued government. Social media is abuzz with his pictures and twitterati have made #AseemTrivedi one of the most searched items on the micro-blogging website.
Trivedi’s arrest shows an alarming trend in Indian democracy — that of smothering opinions and ideas not in line with the credo of the political class.
From the prime minister’s office which attacks international media for being critical of Manmohan Singh to the imprisonment of a West Bengal professor for poking fun at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, politicians seem to have forgotten to take criticism in their stride. Instead, they choose to counter-attack it.
‘Block, ban and censor’ seems to be the new motto for politicians; be it the decision to remove a cartoon from the school curriculum or block more than 300 web pages and a number of Twitter accounts, including several spoof accounts impersonating the prime minister.
So, even as we try to make the world believe in the India growth story, it looks like many our policies are regressive.
It’s ironic that India flaunts to the world its technological prowess with its 100th space mission and at the same time brings sedition charges against a cartoonist depicting the current political climate.
Perhaps the government believes a cartoon is more seditious than corruption perpetrated by its own ministers.
(You can follow Sankalp on Twitter at @sankalp_sp)