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A Case Study of Sanskar Marathe v/s Maharashtra A Critical Discussion

Assem Trivedi, a renowned Indian Political Cartoonist was arrested following sedition charges in 2012 for having posted a series of online caricatures. The arrest was carried out by the Mumbai Police for he was a member of Anna Hazare's Campaign 'India Against Corruption'. He was made liable under IPC Section 124A, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, and Section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to Nation Honour Act.

The court's verdict came after a Public Interest Litigation was filed by an activist-lawyer Sanskar Marathe thereby challenging Trivedi's cartoons following which he was arrested back in 2012.

A comprehensive term like 'sedition' embraces all practices whether by word, deed, or writing that is calculated to bring disturbance in the state's tranquillity`. The main objective is to induce discontent and insurrection that ultimately stir up the opposition to the government and brings the overall administration of justice into contempt. Sedition includes the act of inciting people to insurrection and rebellion against the government.

A private complaint was filed by a lawyer in December. Out of the many allegations which were brought against him one such allegation was that he had actively participated in the movement by putting up banners during the rally wherein he mocked the national sentiments of the country. Shortly, there was a series of FIRs that got filed against him. It consisted of various allegations that were to the effect that he had not only defamed the Parliament, the Constitution of India, and the Ashok Emblem but also tried spreading hatred and disrespect against the Government of India.

Publishing of such cartoons besides amounting to insult under the National Emblems Act also amounts to being seditious. The charges stated that he had violated 'Content Law' and insulted 'National Honor' through cartons posted on his blog page 'Cartoons Against Corruption'. It was also stated that he had deliberately posted 'seditious' and 'obscene content'.

At the age of 30, he told the ABC news channel, "I don't think freedom of speech is in a good condition over here," citing numerous instances of sedition charges against individuals since his arrest. He started his cartooning career in 2004 after which his contributions were found in different Hindi newspapers and magazines. He had always wanted his cartoons to be part of a good cause like activism. His sketches no doubt earned him many fans and followers during India's movement against corruption.

The arrest took place exactly after the cartoons were displayed at a demonstration in Mumbai. [1]It was the Congress-led governments in power both at the Centre and in Maharashtra. The UPA that was in power has long gone and the Narendra Modi government was in its second term Amit, Katarnayea, a member of the Republic party had made the complaint acting upon which the police arrested Trivedi.[2]

He was remanded to judicial custody until 24th September. He was fortunate to have been offered bail otherwise had he been charged with sedition; he would have no doubt faced a lengthy prison service. Despite having offered bail, the cartoonist refused so and continued staying behind bars for two weeks. He kept arguing and kept his stance intact. He also added that the onus is on the government to drop the case. It is shocking to note that the trial against him hasn't even started since his arrest.

Assem rightly quoted that no system is inherently perfect structure-wise which means we always need such people who shall point out the lacunas so that it can be improved. It has to be realized that these people work for the betterment of the country and its people and aren't being detrimental to the government's efforts and aren't going against the system. Nowadays the after-effects of sedition on someone who has been charged with sedition have gone so extreme that it almost disrupts his normal course of life.

It has reached such a point wherein individuals are constantly under the fear of being viciously trolled or that they could be attacked while traveling by train which reflects the inherent brutal situation of such individuals expressing their right to expression. Charges of sedition have been extremely difficult to handle.

It was Sukumar Muralidharan, a South Asia program coordinator with the International Federation of Journalists to have rightfully stated that the police are obliged to have a basic understanding of the law before they decide to further take down and act upon a filed complaint.

In one of his interviews, Assem clarified that his cartoons could at best be described as 'bold' as they depict the government's approach to the handling of the country. It can be envisaged that the plans undertaken in the name of welfare can otherwise be against the interests of the country and its people. It was in an attempt of showcasing such lacunas of the government that he decided to mock its policies. His intention was never to insult the national symbols. Amit Katarnawre, the petitioner who had pushed for his arrest said on the phone that he believed that the cartoons intended a deliberate insult to the national symbols. In defense, it shall be argued that:

The term 'intended deliberate insult' means the maker has the 'mental objective' required for committing such an action. Interpreting the same from a legal sense makes it clear that criticizing or pointing towards the policies that are undertaken by the government cannot be brought within the above definition. Such criticisms consider the government as a whole and never question them at an individual meaning. Thus, he cannot be made liable for sedition and his right to freedom of speech and expression Article 19 (1) cannot be curtailed.

Ultimately, the result of all these had harsh consequences that brought his life to a sudden halt. Firstly, of all, he had to suffer a lot of hate and ill-treatment all because he chose to exercise his constitutional right under Article 19(1) provided by the constitution, and secondly, the stigma attached convinced him to give up cartooning forever.

Assem Trivedi is a well-known name in the world of 'cartoons' or 'online caricatures'. The cartoons made by him during Anna Hazare's 'India Against Corruption Movement' reflects his immense support for him. He had always wanted to be part of such activism and drew the cartoons as an inspiration for the movement going on around. He wanted to show his patriotic spirit and support for anti-corruption.

Interpretation of the cartoons posted on the 'Cartoons Against Corruption Blogspot'
Our liberal minds have to realize that any form of expression whether it is by signs, visible representation, or even caricatures drawn online doesn't necessarily result in being seditious. The different cartoons that were penned down by Trivedi on the blog page were done keeping in mind the role of the government in policy-making. The cartoons are indicative of criticizing the after-effects on the people has nothing to do with them at a personal level. Serious offenses like sedition can't simply be attached to an individual on mere grounds of having criticized the government.

Both Section 124A (Sedition) and Article 19(1) (Freedom of Speech and Expression) have been the center of contention and the latter has mostly been misinterpreted as being seditious.

Article 19(1) is the right to freedom of speech and expression of an individual, the people have the right to express themselves. They have the right to speak against the government and its role in shaping the undertaken strategies. However, such criticism is never intended against them individually or specifically.

Section 124A which specifically deals with sedition would attract liability wherein certain remarks have been made in crossing the government or meaning the persons running such a government. Only in such cases shall those remarks that are otherwise addressed to such individuals be considered seditious. Hence, if any such cartoon brings or attempts to bring such criticism on the government in its entirety meaning it attaches all such persons who in turn help in running the government shall result being seditious.

Criticism in bits and pieces isn't sedition and suggestions relating to their rectification legally constitute Article 19(1) Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. The maker only seeks to identify the weak points wherein the policies are causing more harm than good.

The most talked about posts include the 'National Emblem', 'Constitution', and 'Parliament'. The National Bird has been depicted being a 'vulture' instead of a 'parrot'. The vulture is comfortably seated on the branches of the tree. It has a stern look and a few drops of blood can be found dripping from its mouth. Next, the 'National Emblem' has been depicted as consisting of 'wolves' instead of 'lions'.

The wolves were denoted as signs of danger. By nature, they seem extremely dangerous with the corner ones dripping blood. The 'Constitution' has also been included as one such post wherein the late Kasab can be found urinating. The 'Parliament' can be found surrounded by flies. Additionally, the patriotic song 'Satyamev Jayte' is the 'National Joke' while 'Bribe' is the 'National Food' of the country.

At the time these cartoons were made, there was rampant corruption around and this was the rationale applied by Trivedi as he carefully chose a nasty-looking and filthy scavenger as a 'vulture' in place of the 'peacock'. The painter made the cartoon in an attempt of depicting the consequences that corruption was likely to cause. He deliberately chose the vulture in place of the peacock to increase the gravity of the situation.

Through the cartoons, he wanted to create an impact that would last within the minds of the masses. By asserting a vulture in place of a parrot, he wanted to instil the realization that if the prevailing problems (corruption) weren't treated seriously, the situation would come wherein the 'unacceptable' would gain force. At that time corruption was the base problem and needed immediate redressal. Assem wanted to generate strong thinking and perception in the minds of people so that they could foresee what was happening around, them and what could the situation be like if not corrected.

By unacceptable I mean, if corruption is allowed to continue, a day shall come wherein the country shall identify a vulture as its national bird instead of a parrot. Likewise, the national emblem that consists of lions shall replace them with wolves. Likewise, the constitution shall lose its value, the Parliament shall be associated being a place of flies, patriotic songs shall become a piece of a joke for all and there shall be bribes all around.

The prosecution put up serious charges against him thereby stating that he had deliberately chosen to insult the Indian Constitution and showed disrespect to the supreme document of the land. In an interview, Trivedi cleared the above contention stating that he had never intended to insult the constitution or disrespect it. He added this fact by stating that he strongly believed in the Constitution as well as Dr. B R Ambedkar. His only purpose in choosing the document was to see the situation around, it was obvious that the policies enacted on the part of the government did prove to be disrespectful to the constitution which generates agony and it was in the attempt of stopping all that he chose to mock them through his cartoons.

Why should individuals be compelled to restrict themselves within the constitutional parameters alone, why can't they take a step further? Where has it been stated that cartoonists cannot make 'National Symbols' the object of their cartoons? Why is it that these symbols cannot be used as normal 'objects'- these are some of the common questions every individual should question the government.

It wasn't the government in its entirety but rather their policies that the cartoonist wanted to divert our attention towards. Herein, all the cartoons that Assem had posted on his blog were simply mocking the policies of the government and didn't bring or attempt to bring hatred towards the government or the people running the government and meant none of them at an individual level. The main intention behind creating the cartoons was to draw the attention of the people and create awareness among them so that in a legal way changes could have been brought.

Interpreting the provision of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, it can be clarified that Trivedi, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, neither brought nor attempted to bring into hatred or contempt nor excited or attempted to excite feelings of disaffection towards the government established by law in India. His objective was never to cause disaffection in the government.

Through his cartoons, he never showed any disloyalty or feelings of enmity toward the government. Explanation 2 of the Section has very clearly stated that comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt, or disaffection, do not constitute an offense under this section.

In Trivedi, I see the emerging youthful idealism that continues to motivate individuals. The Parliament as a toilet bowl is a clever analogy. The way his cartoons have been criticized clearly reflects that this piece was not about constitutional law or civic activism. After all, it is all about cartoons-an art that simply captures the mood of the moment.

Hence, the requirements that are needed to establish an act being seditious don't get fulfilled in this case. Aseem Trivedi's self-made caricatures never embraced any such practice whether by word, deed, or writing didn't create any disturbance thereby affecting the tranquillity of the state. There was no intention to induce discontent towards the government. No cause of action stirred up the opposition to the government or brought the administration of justice into question. There was no act of inciting people to take part in violent groups like insurrection and rebellion.

In conclusion the Bombay High Court in its final verdict observed that "every citizen has the right to criticize state machinery in strong words and there has to be incitement of violence to slap sedition charges on someone". The Court at the time of granting bail to Mr. Trivedi in 2012 pulled the Mumbai Police for having arrested the cartoonist on "frivolous grounds and without application of mind." It also issued a set of new guidelines that the police are mandated to follow before booking anyone under sedition charges. Accordingly, the guidelines have been circulated across all the police stations across the state making it obligatory for the officers to consult their respective seniors before booking any person under sedition charges.

Modern democracy is growing intolerant towards expressing basic views. Online caricatures have become radar to controversy. They are easily compressed, easy to digest, and quickly transmitted throughout the world. A country like India despite having talented cartoonists still lacks the inherent sense of humour required to appreciate the same. The problem with today's era is that caricatures have lost their senses. Insulting a creative piece is cheap and easy to do.

Tracing the Supreme Court's landmark judgments in the case of Kedar Nath v. the State of Bihar, 1962- the Court cleared the contention between Section 124A of IPC and Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India which makes it clear that Mr. Trivedi's cartoons were never seditious.

Reading Section 124A alongside the provided explanations, the entire section has to be read as a 'whole'. It has been made reasonably clear that the section focuses on rendering penal only such activities that are 'intended' or have the required 'tendency' to create some sort of a 'disorder or disturbances of public peace' that results out of violence. Any form of criticism in terms of governmental policies or comments on its action doesn't necessarily mean sedition or the amount being seditious.

It doesn't matter how strongly worded it is, it would still be placed under the consideration with Article 19(1) of the constitution. Simply putting this means disloyalty to Government established in the provisions of law isn't the same as commenting in the strongest of words regarding the governmental measures or acts or even its agencies that help run the government in the attempt of making conditions of people better or seek cancellation or alteration of such measures or acts legally without exciting or attempting to excite feelings of hatred, contempt or disaffection shall not constitute as seditious and the individual shall face no further liability under the above section.

Thus, in cases wherein such words are either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise have the inherent tendency of bringing or attempting to bring public disorder or disturbances of law and order thereby preventing such activities undertaken in the interests of the public. Under such circumstances, Section 124A shall apply.

He never claimed bail for he has always been proud of whatever he did and claims to do so. The present state unravels how sedition has largely been politicized and has somewhat come as a hindrance in shaping the way one takes the conversation ahead as to how the government can function. It is expected and is also followed by the government that the criticisms are taken in a positive manner for the rectification and modification of policies in context to the development and welfare of the nation.

  1. Rama Lakshmi, 'Indian Political cartoonist jailed in sedition case' (The Washington Post, 10 September 2012) accessed 2 October 2022.
  2. Jason Burke, 'Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi jailed after arrest on sedition charges' (The Guardian, 10 September 2012) accessed 1 October 2022.

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