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Sedition, my guys and the kitchen sink?

books Updated: Sep 11, 2012 00:55 IST
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Aseem Trivedi is a short, slight man. The sight of him bundled into a Qualis by burly policemen is an inadvertent, yet wholly appropriate rendition of what is happening to him. The might of those who govern the world's second-largest country, coming down on a 24-year-old who draws pictures.

Yes, pictures offensive to some.

But all right, we have laws in this country, even if it shames us that some of them owe their existence to the imperatives of a colonial power. We all want our laws applied. We all have the right to complain to the police if we think someone is violating laws. And therefore why should this law, Section 124A about sedition, not be applied to Trivedi?

But no, my objection is to the existence of Section 124A in the first place.

Partly because the idea of sedition is meaningless in a democracy, which by definition asks you to speak your mind. Partly because the law was written in 1860 to give the British powers to punish us natives. But most of all because it allows each of us our own cesspool of nauseating illogic: this guy says things I like, so he must be allowed to speak; but that guy says things I don't like, so throw the sedition book at him, and possibly the kitchen sink as well.

I was present at Trivedi's first court appearance, on September 9. It was encouraging that a few dozen people gave up their Sunday morning to express outrage at his arrest. Just as encouraging was to read so much comment afterward that supported Trivedi's freedom to express himself.

But I really wanted to understand why, when we're talking about freedom of expression, some see Trivedi's case so differently from others.

Consider a short inventory. Many angry citizens demanded that Arundhati Roy and SAS Geelani be charged with sedition for remarks about Kashmir. Many others wanted Arun Shourie's Worshipping False Gods, James Laine's Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India and Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and The Satanic Verses banned. Binayak Sen was charged with sedition, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, for carrying letters. A student called Chandramohan saw his art removed from a Baroda exhibition because some found it offensive.

As always, I could go on - with names like MF Husain, Joseph Lelyveld, Stanley Wolpert and more.

So I wonder. Do these people have the same freedom to express themselves that Trivedi does? Did the charges of sedition above attract the scorn that Trivedi's charges did?

One answer I got said it all: "You raise your voice for traitors and question people raising voice for patriots."

In other words: Guys who say things I like are patriots. Guys who say things I don't like are traitors. Throw the kitchen sink at them.

Dilip D'Souza is the author of The Curious Case of Binayak Sen