Satire or sedition? Political cartoons in India

Indian Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was recently arrested on sedition charges. Manav Bhushan discusses how an archaic section of India’s penal code has been used to silence government critics.

The case

Mumbai police arrested Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on 8 September 2012 on charges of sedition in response to a complaint filed by a lawyer who claimed to be acting in the public interest. A local court ordered Trivedi’s arrest on grounds that his cartoons were designed to denigrate national symbols and spread anger and hatred against the state. The Indian central government displayed mixed reactions to the arrest, initially supporting it, but later criticising it after massive shows of public support for Trivedi. Several key members of India Against Corruption, a movement led by Anna Hazare, attended a mass protest in Trivedi’s support. The cartoonist initially refused to seek bail, maintaining he was innocent, but Mumbai’s high court granted it on 12 September 2012. After his release, Trivedi said, “the battle has just begun” and vowed to continue fighting against archaic sedition laws in his country. Following national and international outrage over the incident, Mumbai’s high court heavily criticised the Mumbai police, and the state government of Maharashtra ordered an inquiry into how such a serious charge was levied against a cartoonist in the first place.

Author opinion

Although this is the first time a cartoonist has been charged specifically with the crime of sedition under section 124A of India's penal code, it comes amidst the arrest of many activists and writers–notably Dr. Binayak Sen and Arundhati Roy– who have been charged under this archaic law for speaking against the government. In this case, the charge of sedition was so ludicrous that no government official (other than the police officer who made the original charge) even tried to defend it after strong popular support for Trivedi became evident. This incident has again highlighted the need to repeal this colonial-era law, which has repeatedly been used to silence dissent and muzzle criticism. Unfortunately, the government's recent moves to censor websites and ban Twitter accounts do not offer much hope that the law will be repealed any time soon.

- Manav Bhushan

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