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 Cartoons As Honour Crimes

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PostSubject: Cartoons As Honour Crimes   Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:30 pm

Cartoons As Honour Crimes

The patrimonial state and childlike citizens

Dipankar Gupta


It was once Bhagat Singh,but it is now the cartoonist,Aseem Trivedi,who is charged with sedition.History is truly condemned to repeat itself,first as a tragedy and then as a farce.In Indian law,the sentiment behind what constitutes sedition is respect your elders,or else! It is as if we are not adult citizens but a bunch of minors ruled by a patrimonial authority.

Parliamentarians want to control what we read on the internet,what appears in print and even how we treat the flag.This is their duty as grown ups,and ours is to honour and respect them in return.

No wonder they get a rash when cartoons appear in either a text book or in the popular press that make fun of their pretensions.Naturally,they see them as Honour Crimes as their status is being questioned,even mocked,by someone way down at the bottom.Like clan elders they can abuse and attack one another and lead rival cliques,but nobody outside their circle has that privilege.

Aseem Trivedi,a young cartoonist,is now paying for his comeuppance because one of his cartoons has offended the honour of this patrimonial class.He must,therefore,face exemplary punishment because their honour is more precious than the right to free expression.Though subsequently released from a Mumbai prison,he now stands charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
Many politicians from different parties have criticised his arrest,but how genuine is their concern

If one looks at the unanimity with which successive governments have upheld what defines sedition,or how the internet should be censored,or what constitutes national honour,then it is clear that they all think alike.They see themselves as patrimonial disciplinarians and not as servants of the public.

This is why a poke in the ribs,or even a pretend swagger,invites strong reaction from the state.As long as established politicians,from whichever party,in the parliament or legislatures,are spreading disaffection,even inciting violence,it is not sedition.But Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code immediately grows a long arm if someone from the outside were to do the same thing.

So far not a single MP or MLA,nor even a member of a recognised,but lesser,political party,including those from the Bal Thackeray blood line,has been accused of sedition.It is always people with no ties with the patrimonial set who have,at various points been charged with this crime.They include Binayak Sen,Arundhati Roy,several journalists,scores of Kudankulam anti-nuclear activists,and now a young cartoonist.

This patrimonial attitude is also evident in the Information Technology (IT) Act and in The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.Take a look at the IT Act whose essence has never been contested by any government so far,but its patrimonial bearing is unmistakable.

The assumption behind the Act is that we lack judgment in our original childlike condition.This is why we need an authoritative guide to instruct us as to what is mind improving and what is not.Consequently,the Act allows the state to censor lascivious and prurient material which might otherwise tend to deprave or corrupt us.Honour,once again!

Such passages read as if they are from the headmasters manual of an old fashioned boarding school and not like an Act of Parliament.It is as if we are being cautioned against any sign of adult behaviour;a furtive cigarette,a little escapade,a dirty graffiti on the school wall,and down comes the cane.

Similarly,as the name suggests,the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act (which also has the approval of both UPA and NDA governments),has honour on its mind as well.In this Act the flag represents the honour of the state and we are admonished never to disrespect,or insult it.

The menacing medieval quality of its title is probably not just pure coincidence.At any rate,this Act provided an added justification for putting our young cartoonist in jail.
Most western democracies,like Britain,America,France and Sweden do not treasure the flag and worship it the way we do.They allow its desecration: you can burn it,stamp it,tear it or wear it as a bikini.In Germany they even use it to advertise brothels.Does that make people there less patriotic Not so.
But in India,the flag cannot be draped on a bonnet,laid on the ground,and must always be folded in a particular fashion.In case you want to ever wear it,take care it stays above the waist.If it slips lower,then the flag is dishonoured like Draupadi once was.
Our democracy is very different from those in England,Europe or America,not because we are poor and they are rich.This is a popular myth.
The real difference lies in the fact that western governments treat their people as citizens while ours treats us like children.So if a mirror,even a cracked one,as in a cartoon,is held up to the political establishment in an advanced democracy,it is not an honour crime.In India you would be on a prison diet.
Even after Aseem Trivedi has been released,from now on,wherever he goes,it will be as if he has bells on his legs.


The writer is a social scientist
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