Anti-corruption cartoon website suspended in India
The website of Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, Cartoons Against Corruption, has been suspended by its internet host after complaints that it featured content mocking India’s constitution, Index on Censorship reports. Trivedi works as a freelance cartoonist for several Hindi newspapers in the Lucknow and Kanpur area. The complaint, filed by Mumbai-based lawyer, Rajendra Pratap Pandey, described the cartoons as “defamatory and derogatory”. In Pandey’s view, some of the images violate sections of the Indian Penal Code, including The State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005. According to the act, the national emblem cannot be used for “any trade, business, calling or profession or in the title of any patent, or in any trade mark or design” unless authorized by the government. Under the same act, the penalty for violations is up to two years imprisonment or a 5,000 rupee fine (about 100$) or both.
Domain provider Big Rock explained their decision to take down the website which featured more than 50 anti-corruption cartoons by Trivedi: “We have received a complaint from Crime Branch – Mumbai against domain name ‘cartoonsagainstcorruption.com’ for displaying objectionable pictures & texts related to flag and emblem of India. Hence we have suspended the domain name and its associated services. You may contact them at mahapolice.gov.in for further assistance. ”
In an interview with Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time, Trivedi declared that his intention was to “depict the ailing truth of the nation and send across a strong message to the masses.” Trivedi continued: “By suppressing art, you cannot suppress corruption. The aam admi [common man] succumbs at the realms of corruption every second – from struggling to achieve justice for a raped daughter to obtaining old age pension from corrupt government officers.” He also declared that his work is inspired by the Anna Hazare anticorruption movement.
“Should we not put our foot down?” he asked.
The same source reported that the cartoons that caused the stir included Trivedi’s interpretation of the Indian national emblem, where four venomous wolves stand in place of King Asoka’s Sarnath lions. Further, the inscription on the emblem reads “Bhrashtamev Jayate” (Long Live Corruption) instead of “Satyamev Jayate” (Long Live Truth).
Several sympathizers expressed rage over Aseem Trivedi’s website ban, Preetika Rana reported for India Real Time:
“No one raises objection to pornographic content readily accessible online, but when it comes to the government, people suddenly propagate so called responsibility,” a user wrote in Hindi on Cartoons Against Corruption’s Facebook page while several others contented that the ban violated freedom of expression.
Following his website’s ban last week, Trivedi initiated a blog where he continues to express his opinion through “hard hitting cartoons,” as he described them.
“To quit now would be to end the common man’s anger over corruption. I will not give up,” he said.
UPDATES: In recent statements, the artist has declared that he will be filing a RTI (Right To Information), adding that “I’m an artist. We’re supposed to have liberty. This move is tyrannical.” The RTI is considered a fundamental right under the Constitution in India: “under which every citizen has freedom of speech and expression and have the right to know how the government works, what role does it play, what are its functions and so on.”
Supporters of the artist’s right to freedom of expressions continue to issue harsh critiques against Mumbai Police and the domain holder, Big Rock, for taking down the website without giving Trivedi any chance to defend himself or contest the ban. Blogger News Netowork argues:
“The uniqueness of this blocking incident has been that it is not an ISP level blocking but a blocking at the domain name level by a notice to the domain name registrar Big Rock. Also the site has been remove not by a Court order but by Police action.
While the cartoon site has reportedly been now moved to another host, the incident creates a legal precedent of far reaching consequences though in a wrong context. It is to be noted that blocking an objectionable content is different from forcing cancellation of a domain name. Domain Name is a “Virtual Property” and what Mumbai Police have done in this case is “Depriving a Citizen of his Right to Property”. This is violation of his fundamental right. The action needs to be questioned. The domain name registrar BigRock.in should also be questioned on the propreity of their action without even giving an opportunity for the domain owner to defend. It amounts to deficiency of service on their part. Their action reminds me of the famous quote in the Post Emergency days that “When some people were asked to bend, they crawled”.
This incident is therefore to be considered as a serious threat to democratic principles.”
More updates on Aseem Trivedi’s struggle against censorship can be read here.