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

Posted on September 12, 2012

By Sadhogopal Ram:

India is fast losing its “sense of humour” when it comes to cartoons. 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 against 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 after police said that they are done with their investigation. He was 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:

I 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.

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 so 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 lethal, and its sting is being felt by our leaders. He has merely used the medium that 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 government used against any form of dissent of disapproval our freedom fighters showed during their freedom struggle.

Freedom of speech be damned!

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 we can 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?

Every day, 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 before us but worldwide. Why can’t Aseem (or for that matter any of us), when faced with no other option but to show our dissent and disapproval of the way our system is working, go ahead and take such drastic step as 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 treat it. When they don’t agree with each other they resort to fights, pushing & shoving and at times take out their sandals and slippers inside that very parliament to slap each other; does that uphold its image? I think it is such behaviours 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, is the image of the way our ministers conduct themselves inside Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, 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 – how is it wrong? He was caught red handed, and still the trial took over 4 years – and 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, supposedly meant to protect us, is looting us. Scams after scams. So when all these scams, corruptions of mammoth scale, do not malign the face of National Emblem, how does an artist’s caricatured dissent malign it?

We must understand that it’s not the symbols of national integrity which makes us, it is us, we as collective force, should define them. What use of those symbols of national identity when their very code 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 objection because I don’t think there was any other way to show it in a better and equally aghast manner. 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.

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