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Long live political cartoonists!
By S. G. Vombatkere

The charge of sedition against Aseem Trivedi for his cartoons is patently incorrect and has put back focus on the need to abolish Section 124A.

Aseem Trivedi has cartooned a western style flush toilet with the bowl showing pillars similar to those of Parliament House, and titled it “National Toilet”. The distinctive Parliament House building is obviously used by the cartoonist to symbolize the state and central legislatures. Another cartoon showing the Ashoka Pillar capital with wolves in place of the lions, and “Bhrashtameva Jayate” in place of “Satyameva Jayate”, is titled “National Emblem”. Yet another titled “Gang Rape of Mother India” depicts the politician and the bureaucrat holding Mother India down, with the politician urging the wolf of corruption to rape her. And one cartoon titled '69' – “Favourite Position in India”, depicts 'politics' and 'corruption' as humans in a sexual '69' position. These cartoons have apparently attracted the ire of some people that led to a complaint resulting in Aseem Trivedi's arrest on charges of sedition and denigrating national symbols.

All the cartoons clearly bear the logo “Cartoons Against Corruption”, making it clear that they are sketched specifically to object to the corruption in governments, in the legislatures, and in civic life. It must be recognized that a whole movement headed by Anna Hazare, has arisen with the central aim of opposing corruption, and it has gained nation-wide acceptance. All the cartoons therefore need to be viewed in that light. Every single Indian will agree that corruption is monumental, it is a primary cause for slow development, and it must be stopped. Even those indicted for corruption would agree, except that they would claim that they are not guilty of corruption. In that sense, Aseem speaks for every single citizen.

Aseem's cartoons have been described by people of repute as actually depicting what the central and state governments and the central and state legislatures have been doing. That is, bringing the nation into domestic and international disrepute by various acts of commission and omission centred around corruption concerning money, goods, services and economic and political corruption. India is in the upper bracket in the international corruption index and in the bottom bracket in the Human Development Index. It does not call for rocket science to make the connection between the positions in the two indices. Thus, the anger in all sections of Indian society against corruption, seen as a primary cause of denial of benefits and services, is understandable.

India is in the upper bracket in the international corruption index and in the bottom bracket in the Human Development Index. It does not call for rocket science to make the connection between the positions in the two indices.

Unfortunately, the politician-bureaucrat-policeman class, do not appear to have understood that their nexus with large commercial corporations, which represent the most powerful and influential private interests in the country, is seen as the reason for public disenchantment turning to public anger. Politicians who are in governments (the political executive along with bureaucrats) and in legislatures, are targets of people's anger because they have betrayed the trust of the people who elected them. Aseem's cartoons are representative of public anger.

The Bombay High Court has pulled up the Mumbai Police authorities for arresting Aseem Trivedi “on frivolous grounds” and “without application of mind”, thus “breach[ing] his freedom of speech and expression”. It required public anger and a PIL to receive this judicial opinion, though it is like water off a duck's back for the politician-bureaucrat-police nexus which runs governments. The charge of sedition against Aseem Trivedi for his cartoons is patently incorrect and, apart from bringing stinging judicial comments, has attracted public attention to the need to abolish Section 124A.

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition as bringing or attempting to bring hatred or contempt, or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law. Notable among those charged with sedition in recent times are Dr. Binayak Sen (Chhattisgarh), Dr. E.Rati Rao (Karnataka), Piyush Sethia (Tamil Nadu), Manoj Shinde (Gujarat), and Seema Azad & Vishwa Vijay (Uttar Pradesh). And, astoundingly, some 3,580 simple village people protesting against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant (Tamil Nadu)! This list is not complete. And now Aseem Trivedi (Maharashtra)! It is sad that the State sees peaceful protests and peaceful protestors as existential threats, and resorts to charges of sedition and the use of force at the slightest excuse. To put a perspective on the politician-bureaucrat-police nexus that represents the State at central or state level, they have also charged 6,500 of the same KKNPP protestors with “waging war against the state”!

Whether or not the “language” of Aseem Trivedi's cartoons is acceptable, what is abundantly clear is that neither its intent nor its content is seditious. The Mumbai Police, with their high-handed, misguided charge of sedition against Aseem Trivedi, have not only helped launch the bold young activist into national and international prominence, but made a laughing stock of governments' real capabilities and intolerance.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

S. G. Vombatkere  |  sg9kere@live.com

Maj Gen S. G. Vombatkere (VSM) (retired) is engaged in voluntary work with Mysore Grahakara Parishat, and is a member of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Settled in Mysore, he is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA.

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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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