While cartoonist Aseem Trivedi has become a national hero for the self-proclaimed supporters of freedom of expression, and remains a seditionist for the self-proclaimed guardians of patriotic spirit, let’s look beyond his cartoons for a while.
Let’s look at what he has been accused of – sedition, through disrespecting national emblems. And how has he “disrespected” them? One of his cartoons depicts the lions of the Ashoka Pillar as bloodthirsty wolves, with the slogan Sathyameva Jayate (Truth alone triumphs) altered to Brashtameva Jayate (Corruption alone triumphs). Another depicts the Parliament as the base of a Western-style latrine with flies hovering around it. Another depicts Ajmal Amir Kasab as a dog urinating on the Constitution.
Let’s say the charges against Aseem Trivedi are valid, and that he has indeed disrespected symbols enshrined in our democracy. If that is the case, then, shouldn’t the sycophantic party workers who tack our politicians’ faces on to national emblems be tried for the same alleged crime?
How is it, then, that these party workers have plastered public walls in metros and other large cities with posters desecrating national symbols, complete with their own photographs, so we know whom to blame, and got away with it?
A few years ago, a Congress party member called Kailash Sonkar supplied his name, photograph and mobile number on a poster that had Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s face superimposed on a picture of the Rani of Jhansi, complete with a baby bag for her son Rahul. She was bearing the Indian flag, just in case her mission – or representation – wasn’t clear enough.
I have seen posters that represent Sonia Gandhi as the Bharat Mata in my own hometown. These are usually put up when the ruling party in the state, whichever it may happen to be, strikes up an alliance with the Congress.
As the controversy over Trivedi broke out, actor Ashwin Mushran tweeted a photograph of a poster that seems to have been put up in Madras. The very same emblem Trivedi has been accused of disrespecting is shown bearing the faces of Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram and his son Karthi Chidambaram. At least five names, one mobile number, and the photograph of one grinning party worker have been supplied on the poster itself.
But has any one of these party workers been punished? Has any of them even been accused of sedition? Or do the powers that be at the Centre consider themselves representative of national insignia? Do they deem it natural that the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi should be portrayed as the Bharat Mata, or even as the Rani of Jhansi? Incidentally, the Congress is yet to find a foothold in the state the Rani hailed from.
There have been several debates earlier over the representation of politicians as Gods. Following the uproar over a photograph of Obama in the magazine Newsweek, that seemed representative of Lord Nataraja, this blog posted several of the poorly-Photoshopped images the writer had come across.
These included a tribute from the DMK to its atheist leader Karunanidhi and his son Stalin, represented as Lord Krishna and Arjuna respectively. Also pictured is a portrayal of Sonia Gandhi as Ma Durga. The BJP, which usually objects to the representation of politicians as Hindu Gods, should probably take a closer look at the face of the Ma Durga in the last photograph on the page.
In a country where textbooks are scoured for “offensive” cartoons, a professor gets arrested for circulating a cartoon of Mamata Banerjee, and a cartoonist is accused of sedition, is it all right for the faces of politicians to be mounted on national and religious icons? Or are our “leaders” so blinded by their double-standards that the irony is lost on them?
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The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com