Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shut Up! You Have No Right To Dissent In 21st Century India

By Sadho Ram

India is fast losing its "sense of humor" when it comes to cartoons and with the growing intolerance against the political cartoons and cartoonists it's pretty much apparent. Moreover, in the very democracy which guarantees freedom of expression, there is no respect or for that matter tolerance towards any form of dissent against the system and its wrong-doings.

The whole country is at it again - arguing, debating, protesting, issuing online petitions - this time it’s in support and also in against of a defiant Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, a free speech campaigner, who was arrested on sedition and two other charges for allegedly ‘mocking’ the parliament and symbols of national integrity in his anti-corruption cartoons, and was later sent to judicial custody till 24 September when he refused to apply for bail even as the police said are done with their investigation. granted bail on Tuesday by Bombay High Court on a personal bond of Rs 5000.

While voicing our dissent against his arrest, some of us are conflicted on the issue as to whether or not Aseem went too far in his dissent to show his disapproval of how our leaders are using the system and therefore, mocking it themselves.

This morning, Anshul Tewari, the editor-in-chief of Youth Ki Awaaz, asked me what do I think of this whole issue. Here’s the question that he posed:

“Am a bit conflicted. What do you think? I think Aseem should not have been jailed, but I do think his cartoons offend my national identity and the love I have for my country and its founding fathers.”

Image: SAYS.com

As a citizen of this country, I understand the sentiment behind the conflict, but as an individual, I stand clear on the issue. Aseem says he is proud of what he has done and will do repeatedly, and I think he should. Because he has not done anything wrong. He only did what any common man, given the courage and honesty, would do.

Being an artist, Aseem has a very powerful medium at his disposal, which off late has become sort of, if I can say, lethal, the sting of which our leaders are feeling. He has merely used that medium he knows too well to express his anger against the condition that plagues our nation today. His arrest, furthermore, shows that there is no space for any criticism of government’s wrong-doings, failures of our system and the apparent apathy that has gripped our constitution.

But that’s not all, the real issue behind all this is that when we or one of our ‘own’ does anything wrong, it’s okay by us, but when someone else goes ahead and shows us what we are doing is wrong in a manner, which I won’t deny, not only shocks but also to an extent hurts the sentiment of millions of those who hold the symbols of national integrity at high regard, we retaliate - and how - we slap the person with the most regressive and archaic law which British govt. used against any form of dissent of disapproval our freedom fighters showed during their freedom struggle.

I agree, with those who are against the ‘loudness’ of Aseem’s cartoons. They are in fact extremely provocative, no denying that. And for those who hold the symbols of national integrity and identity at high regard, it's kind of hurting too. I agree again. But, if only can we take a step back and ask ourselves, why are they provocative? Are they that way only because we value the symbols more than we value the human life?

Yes, we must be first able to answer this. What do we get by merely valuing the symbols of national integrity when we can’t value the moral code and meanings they carry with them?

Everyday, we see our leaders whom we chose to represent us, our voice inside the parliament and system, not giving any heed to the very image of it, don’t we? They behave like some lose goons inside closed walls, bickering NOT arguing or debating, and fighting with each other, therefore, completely ridiculing the very image of parliament and making a mockery out of it, not just to us but worldwide, why can't Aseem (or for that matter any of us), when faced with no other option but to show my dissent and disapproval of the way our system is working, go ahead and take such drastic step where he has to paint it as a commode (toilet)?

There comes a time when one needs the shock-value to wake us sleeping Indians!

In fact, the parliament shown as commode perfectly depicts the way our MPs and MLAs treats it. When they don’t agree with each other they resort to feast-fights, pushing & shoving and at times take out their sandals and slippers inside the very parliament to slap each other, does that upholds its image? I think it is such behaviors by our leaders inside and outside the parliament which demeans these symbols of national integrity more than Aseem’s cartoons could ever do.

So, ask yourself once again, did the image of the way our ministers conduct themselves inside Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is in any way better than what Aseem chose to show us?

About Ajmal Kasab's cartoon, where he is shown as a dog pissing on the Constitution of India book - how is it wrong? He was caught red handed, and still the trial took over 4 years - and billion of money was spent on keeping the fellow safe who killed dozens of Indians without any regard or remorse. People who were innocent were killed, and we and our system kept and are still keeping this fellow safe - just so that we and our so-called constitution of India can be upheld and for what? Does this mean that we value a mere symbol more than we value human life?

The National Emblem, were the wolves have taken place of the mighty lions - is in what way wrong? Our country is being looted by the very system which governs us. The government, who was supposedly meant to protect us is looting us. Scams after scams. So when all these scams, corruption of mammoth scale, do not malign the face of National Emblem, how does an artist's caricaturish dissent maligns it?

We must understand that it’s not the symbols of national integrity which makes us, it is us, we as collective force, is what should define them. What use of those symbols of national identity when the very code of them is not upheld? We are the code, the human life, the symbols are what our forefathers chose to represent our country, but certainly not at the cost of human life.

Lastly, Aseem chose the national symbols to show his dissent because I don't think there was any other way to show it in more better and aghast manner equally. And seeing the way our government has acted on the basis of an individual's complaint, it's pretty much clear that India is no longer a country where any form of dissent is allowed or tolerated.