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Trivedi Case: Nuggets of Wisdom: MAKING MOUNTAIN OF MOLEHILL?, By Syed Ali Mujtaba, 19 Sept, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 19 September 2012  

Trivedi Case: Nuggets of Wisdom


By Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are few nuggets of wisdom that cartoonist Aseem Trivedi’s arrest for sedition and subsequent release following public uproar raises which need to be discussed. As taking sides could prove contradictory and difficult.

One way would be to follow the conservative position that anyone who dishonors the Constitution and national emblem is guilty of misconduct. There is nothing bigger for the country than its national symbols and any attack on the nation’s foundation cannot be tolerated. 

This is the same argument that Muslims are advancing against world-wide protests over the trailer of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ today. We saw similar Muslim unrest against Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet earlier. Muslims vowed that certain symbols are sacrosanct and there sanctity should be respected along-side caricatures smacking of bad taste should be avoided.

Recall, an identical case was made out against late painter MF Hussain for drawing controversial images of Hindu gods and goddesses. The Picasso of India had to face the wrath of hurting Hindu feelings and was compelled to live in exile till his death.

The case of Bengali writer Taslima Nasreen too falls in the same bracket. Her anti-Islamic writings invited the wrath of Bangladeshi Muslims forcing her to live in Kolkata but she defied her guest status by her anti-Islam writings. Compelled to leave India she sought exile in Sweden which granted her citizenship. 

Pertinently, all these cases have one dominating theme: Conservative versus liberal position on freedom of speech. The rationalist wants societies and nations to take a liberal stand on sensitive issues like nationalism and religion. They argue, when the ‘world has become flat’ and globalisation the order of the day, people cannot be regulated under the fetters of religion or nationalism.

Besides, as freedom of speech is a fundamental right such freedom should not be regulated. Culminating in an appeal to conservatives to refrain from becoming hyper on such issues and accept creative work with a broad smile.

Undeniably, it is very difficult to take positions on such issues without hurting sentiments one way or the other. In the end, it is best to leave it to individual judgment. 

Moreover, the other issue Trivedi’s case raises are our sedition laws and whether these are valid in independent India. Some argue that the sedition law was Britain’s legacy and should be scrapped. Given that sedition charges can only be slapped in political cases which do not apply in Trivedi’s case. Thus, his arrest under non-bailable clauses was flawed. 

Even as lawyers dissect the pros and cons, the basic question remains: Was Trivedi’s arrest right? According to the Mumbai police it acted on specific complaints and after investigation found that Trivedi had erred, deserved to be arrested leaving it to the court to decide his innocence. 

This raises another question: Why was Trivedi released swiftly? Perhaps, our Administrators acted due to intense public and media pressure. Alternatively, the longer Trivedi remained jailed; he would unnecessarily attract mileage which he might not deserve.  

Not a few wonder whether Trivedi’s cartoons were deliberate. To create controversy, take refuge under the cloak of freedom of expression and derive mileage. Remember, Salman Rushdi’s controversial novel ‘Satanic Verses’ with its anti- Islamic tone which masqueraded under the garb of a novelist’s flight of imagination. 

All in all, as history and Trivedi’s case illustrate, not a few ‘nobody’s’ take recourse to this age-old method of yelling curtailment of their basic to right to freedom of expression, seek publicity by courting controversies thereby becoming instant celebrities.

Last but not the least, the debate between conservatives and liberals over the freedom of expression issue is hackneyed. While liberals want the conservatives to leave accept their point of view, conservatives want liberals to refrain from being iconoclast and refrain from disturbing social harmony. Whether this is making a mountain of a molehill or vice-versa, the debate over who wins and loses remains inconclusive.  ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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