Mumbai cartoonist Aseem Trivedi who was arrested for allegedly disrespecting the national emblem in his cartoons, has triggered a whole new debate on sedition laws in the country.
Trivedi was released on bail earlier this month, but vows to keep the debate alive until the government replaces the current sedition law which dates back to 1894, with a more modern law.
Trivedi spoke to Firstpost on why he thinks he did not cross boundaries through his work, his plans to battle the laws on sedition, and why he is yet to give up on the state.
One of your works shows Parliament House as commode and another shows the national emblem in bad light. Do you regret making any of the controversial cartoons thinking that it crossed boundaries?
No. I have no regret at all about any of my works. You have to understand that cartoons hold a mirror to the society. If a mirror shows a face as disfigured, it means that face is disfigured in reality. My cartoons have not crossed any boundaries. Politicians have crossed boundaries and my cartoons are a mere reflection of the same. I will not bring justice to my work by diluting it just because showing the truth will offend the State.
It is one thing to be critical and another to be cynical. The impression one gets from your work is that you have given up on the system and you have turned cynical. Is that the case?
Had I been cynical, I would not have done these cartoons in the first place. Cartoons are my way of expressing my feelings and thereby criticising the government. Having said that, I am a bit cynical with the current state of affairs where a cartoonist is seen as anti-national because we have no other law but sedition law to deal with the issue.
I believe if keep on pushing the envelope and keep alive the debate on debate on freedom of speech and expression, such laws can be replaced with better ones. And I am hopeful it will happen. In that sense, my approach comes within the realm of criticism and not cynicism.
You think that the action against you would have been more lenient if a political party other than Congress was in majority at Centre?
I don’t think it would have been any different. West Bengal is not a Congress ruled state but we know what action the state government took against a college professor who forwarded a set of cartoons on his email. There is an issue with the collective thinking of the establishment. It is difficult to point out who, in particular, is more sensitive. Secondly, another government would have also invoked section 124 (A) because, to deal with such cases, there is no alternative to this outdated law.
There is a perception that though action against you was taken as per the law, the state machinery instigated it. Do you agree?
It is very difficult to say. There are two possibilities here. One, someone saw my cartoons, did not like them, and filed a case against me. Police acted on the complaint, followed the due course of law and filed an FIR under section 124 (A) of Indian Penal Code. Then they followed the court proceedings and I was sent to jail.
Two, the state wanted to set an example and warn others by taking strict action against me. Hence, the complaint and subsequent action against me. We all know that on many occasion, government uses different ways to get things done. But I cannot say with surety which of the two was actually the case here.
There are media reports that after your case, the government is mulling revoking the sedition law. Government gave similar assurances after Dr Binayak Sens’s case also, but there was no movement. Are you hopeful that things will change this time?
The government is in the habit of making statements and forgetting them. But this time, I am hopeful that it will replace the sedition law with a law which is in tune with the social realities of today’s India.
After your release from jail in Mumbai, you said that you would continue your campaign. Can you give us a sense of what kind of campaign that would be?
Lot of people are not aware of what actually sedition law is. They don’t know that while mentioning sedition, we are talking about deshdroh and that section 124 (a) was enacted during the British Raj. They just know that this guy made some cartoon because of which he was sent to jail.
I will use different media to spread awareness and demand the repeal of the sedition law. In the days to come, I will also meet people including Dr Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy and the protesters in Kudankulam. All of them have been booked under sedition charges at different points in time. I will try to gather support of these people in fight against sedition law.
Will you make a cartoon on what you faced in the last ten days?
I would love to. I will draw one whenever I get time.