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Why so serious?

Two recent incidents show that political cartoonists are not always free to ply their trade in India.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2011 21:55 IST

One way of getting somebody's goat is to laugh at him. And like the court jester, the cartoonist's job is to criticise people using his medium as a weapon. For this, a cartoonist enjoys full protection simply by being a cartoonist. To charge a cartoonist of hurting sensibilities is as inane as castigating a sex worker for being promiscuous. But two recent incidents show that India still has its fair share of sourpusses. Last week, Indore cartoonist Harish Yadav aka Mussveer was arrested after his cartoon appearing in the local paper Prabhat Kiran failed to make someone by the name of Javed chuckle. Javed filed an FIR and the latter was booked for 'intending to outrage religious feelings... by insulting its religion or religious beliefs'. Yadav's cartoon depicted a naked Narendra Modi with a skull cap held up by a stick covering his bottom. The cartoon points to the Gujarat chief minister's refusal to wear a skull cap presented to him by a Muslim cleric during his recent public fast. Clearly, the cartoon wasn't being anti-Muslim. Mr Modi's supporters simply didn't like their hero to be the butt of any joke. Mr Yadav is now in jail.

In the same month in Mumbai, a police inspector apparently warned cartoonist Satish Acharya to remove from his blog his cartoon depicting Sharad Pawar as a pole dancer exposing his leg and showing his 'assets' of 'Rs12 crore'. After a complaint, the policeman reportedly threatened to charge Mr Acharya with Section 69 of the Information Technology Act that deals with content deemed dangerous for India's security. The cop has denied making the call, while the cartoon can now be seen on Mr Acharya's Facebook page. We don't know whether India's sovereignty has been saved.

The freedom to poke fun at people in India blinks on and off like a moronic tic. And it's the liberal voice that fails when it murmurs about the need not to offend ('minority') sensibilities. A cartoonist may train his gun against ideological lines, but by dint of his work being a cartoon, he is protected. A people without a sense of humour is a people cursed. Mr Yadav should immediately be set free. Instead of raging against cartoons, the aggrieved lot should be forced to learn how to take things a little less seriously.