The case of a cartoonist charged with treason and offending India’s national sentiments reflects a growing debate over what constitutes freedom of expression in India. His accusers argue that while it is permissible to make fun of politicians, you cannot make fun of the state.
That’s how, right there. No no no, that’s entirely wrong. Yes you can make fun of the state. The state and the church or mosque are right at the top of the list of things you must be able to make fun of in order to have free speech at all. If free speech applies just to things that don’t matter, then it’s not free.
Trivedi, a freelancer from the central state of Uttar Pradesh, was inspired by the well-known social activist Anna Hazare‘s fight against corruption and graft. Trivedi drew cartoons criticizing the Indian government, some of which were exhibited while Hazare was fasting in Mumbai in December.
Back in Mumbai, Trivedi faces another legal attack. There, lawyer R.P. Pandey has filed his own complaint, alleging that the cartoons are “defamatory and derogatory” and requesting “strict legal action,” according to news reports. While Mumbai police have yet to file charges, the complaint has had repercussions: Big Rock, a domain name registrar, suspended Trivedi’s website, www.cartoonistsagainstcorruption.com, citing the criminal complaint, The Times of India reported.
Speaking to CPJ from Mumbai, Pandey said that while parodying politicians was a legitimate pursuit, mocking national institutions like the Indian Parliament and national symbols was “completely unacceptable.”
No no no. You can mock institutions. Mocking institutions is a very important component of free speech.
Certainly, the blocking of Trivedi’s website has caused a sense of disquiet. Sudhir Tailang, a well-known political cartoonist based in Delhi, says, “The very essence of cartoons are their anti-establishment note. Take away that and you take away dissent.”
Exactly. Do better, India.