When a young cartoonist was arrested in Mumbai last week for his ugly and punching cartoons, India erupted with condemnation, especially over the fact that the sedition law was applied in his case.
This guy really did a few of these cartoons in bad taste. They are really ugly, and in my opinion, insults key Indian institutions like the Parliament and the national emblem. While it may be true that he was trying to convey a harsh message around corruption to his readers, there may not be unanimous agreement with his methods.
There was many, many arguments over the national TV news channels and in the cyberspace, for and against him.
I did not like the government response – instead of taking a measured view of the situation, the government spokespersons tried to justify the arrest on the basis of the sedition law, which is a legacy of the British and should have been repealed long time ago (right after India’s independence from the British). The government view has always been whatever they do or planning to do cannot be wrong in principle. And, cannot be bad in law. On both counts, they went wrong. The Bombay High Court lambasted the police and the government yesterday for arresting the cartoonist on frivolous grounds, and I did not see any response from the government !
However, you would be surprised to learn that I do not support the cartoonist either. I think he used bad tactics probably to get attention, but the attention has already been secured by the government on the various corruption scandals. There was no need to denigrate national institutions, to drive home a point. Artists and cartoonists can cry on their freedom to create what they wish to, without legal or governmental interference, but they should also understand that there are limits to freedom.
What happens if someone takes offence on the desecration of the Parliament and the national emblem ? Even the Parliament’s Speaker can file a case against the cartoonist. In the eyes of natural justice, the cartoonist cannot and should not be completely exonerated. Can he not communicate his viewpoint in some other catchy, elegant manner without offending the sensibilities of people ?
So, while he is out on bail (which he said he would not claim), I think he should be tried – may be the Court would let him go free, but I would be happy if they can issue a warning to him. India is surely not the freest country in the world – many of us living in India think it is freer than even the U.S. But that may be a flawed thought. It is always a balance in the final count. Democracy and freedom of expression are not absolute rights of any man to do whatever he wishes to do under that pretext, he needs to stop and think where his freedom actually ends and the next guy’s freedom starts.
Artists and cartoonists and other so-called creators cannot claim absolute immunity just on the basis that they are a unique bunch of people who have been allowed to do whatever they wish, irrespective of any potential harm that their actions might cause. Just look at what a film made in the U.S. has caused in terms of damage to U.S. interests around the Middle East region over the past few days – can the film maker claim total immunity ? Think about it for a moment – why cause damage to an already fragile world ?
15th September 2012