Banning free speech greater insult to Bharat than Bharat Ratna jokes … young Indians have courage to laugh openly today : cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who was jailed by the UPA government for his anti-corruption drawings
Updated on: 01 Jun 2016
Comedian Tanmay Bhat's video spoofing Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar has political groups threatening censorship and violent attacks. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who was jailed by the UPA government for his anti-corruption drawings, discussed nationalism and freedom, why bans must be banned – and how young Indians are developing the courage to laugh at legends:
Are Bharat Ratnas above jokes?
This argument, that you can't make fun of Bharat Ratnas who symbolise the pride of the nation, is part of the nationalism debate – often, a rather fake debate. It doesn't matter to anyone outside India whether you joke about a Bharat Ratna – but it certainly makes an impact globally when a cartoonist or comedian in India gets arrested for their work.
It's so illogical that the police called a press conference over Tanmay and said they'd look at censoring his work – this has become a common tactic. And the world is noticing this. Several laws are being used to discourage freedom in India, to control even the internet. I think the suppression of freedom of speech is a far greater concern for India's global prestige.
Also, no matter how great an individual is, can we make them God? This argument is the same as saying you can't make cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Are we following that logic? In 2012, cartoons of Dr Ambedkar, drawn by India's eminent artist Shankar, were removed from textbooks. It's very dangerous to assume that some people can be insulted by a cartoon or certain people can't be joked about. It's unnatural to make human beings divine figures – and threaten anyone who sees them as human.
At another level, it's a clash of two professions. One is the comic, whose work is exploring new mediums for humour. The other is politicians, whose work is to make a joke out of the people by using identity politics – and threats.
Senior artists criticise Tanmay's video for crudity though, a charge heard over your Parliament drawings too – how valid is that?