Barely a day in police custody for questioning after his arrest on sedition charges, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was on Monday sent to judicial custody as his case created a nationwide furore and led to widespread criticism of the government's "intolerance".
As rights activists criticised the arrest for an alleged derogatory cartoon and the Press Council of India (PCI) head slammed the "stupid" move, the central government however maintained that targeting of national symbols by cartoonists would not be allowed.
Facing sedition charges under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, along with other offences under the Information Technology Act, Trivedi was arrested in Mumbai late on Saturday and sent to seven days police custody by a magistrate Sunday.
After questioning him for a day, police decided not to grill the cartoonist any further. He was produced again before a court which sent him to judicial custody till Sep 24.
Kanpur-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi who was arrested on charges of posting seditious contents on his website is seen outside a Mumbai court. PTI
Trivedi, an activist of India Against Corruption (IAC), has refused to apply bail in the case until the sedition charges - which attract a maximum life imprisonment - are withdrawn.
A resident of Shuklaganj near Kanpur, he has been spearheading a Cartoons Against Corruption campaign on social media networks.
The 25 year-old is accused of uploading "ugly and obscene" matter on his web portal and for putting up objectionable banners insulting the Indian constitution during Anna Hazare's anti-corruption agitation in Mumbai last December.
The case saw the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which holds the home minister's post in the Maharashtra government, tie itself in confusion.
While home minister RR Patil claimed that his department was not involved in the case and assured that the government would arrange for Trivedi's speedy release, the party defended the police action and even demanded that the cartoonist should apologise before his case could be considered sympathetically.
In Delhi, information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said while the government had "no problems" with cartoons, "they should stay within constitutional parameters".
She added that "they cannot make national symbols the object of their cartoon".
Congress disapproved of Trivedi's arrest saying the action was a bit "over-stretched" and "not called for".
At the same time, the AICC advocated for "reasonable restrictions" on freedom of speech and called for respecting the national emblems.
The remarks, by the AICC spokesperson Manish Tewari, came as the party-led government in Maharashtra said it was trying to seek the release of the artist who has been charged with sedition.
"I have no hesitation in saying that the arrest is a bit too far over-stretched...over reaction is certainly not called for... We are not in favour of arrest," Tewari told reporters at the AICC briefing.
While noting that "a society, which fails to laugh at itself, runs the risk of getting atrophied", he at the same time posed the question "does freedom of speech mean doing everything is fair deal?"
The IAC demanded that Trivedi be "unconditionally released" and "the baseless charge of sedition be withdrawn instantly".
Trivedi's harassment "smacks of vendetta against the anti-corruption movement, and portrays sign of a paranoid state", said an IAC statement.
"IAC firmly stands for freedom of expression and expresses its anguish against a growing culture of intolerance for creative expression in the public domain," the statement added.
PCI chairperson Katju roundly criticized Trivedi's arrest, saying politicians should learn to be more tolerant.
Terming the arrest "wrongful", Katju slammed the sedition charges against Trivedi as "nonsense, stupid" and said they should be "dismissed as frivolous". He also termed the arrest of the young cartoonist as "misuse of state machinery".
On Twitter too, the arrest attracted criticism.
Author Chetan Bhagat tweeted: "Arresting a young, anti-corruption cartoonist? UPA totally lost the plot? Disastrous political move. Just erased urban youth vote."
Cartoonist Hemant Morparia wondered how a cartoon could be termed as "waging war against the state".
"The cartoon was more of a polemic.. waging war against the state? How can it be considered as that?" he asked.
Well known cartoonist Sudhir Dar said the arrest showed increasing intolerance.
"We haven't yet developed a healthy sense of humour, we are becoming more and more intolerant."
The criticism over the arrest of the cartoonist comes days after a controversy over an article in the US daily Washington Post that described Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as "a tragic figure".
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani had taken a swipe at the Prime Minister's media advisor and the way in which he had handled the Washington Post article, and the party on Monday again attacked the government for its handling of the criticism in the US newspaper and of Trivedi's case.
"If an article is written in Washington Post, then a letter is dashed off to it by this government. If a cartoonist, using his right to freedom of speech, expresses his views, then he becomes a danger to national security," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said.
The 25-year-old cartoonist was arrested on Saturday under IPC Section 124 (sedition), section 66 A of Information Technology Act and section 2 of Prevention of Insults to Nation Honour Act. He was remanded in police custody till September 16 on Sunday.
Producing Trivedi before a Bandra court, police said their investigations in the case were over and his custodial interrogation was not needed.
The Kanpur-based artist has been accused of putting up banners mocking the Constitution during a rally of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare here late last year and posting the same on his website.
Police informed the court the posters drawn by Trivedi had been put up at the rally but it was very hard to recover them at this stage as they were thrown by the cartoonist at the rally venue in Bandra Kurla Complex.
Police further said Trivedi was using a mobile phone registered on his father's name. They said in so far as posting of Trivedi's cartoons on a social networking site was concerned, the Cyber Cell of the department was carrying out investigations.
After going through the remand application, the court observed that investigations were complete and remanded Trivedi to judicial custody till September 24.
Trivedi was arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by a member of Republican Party of India, Amit Katarnayea.
Clad in black kurta and jeans, Trivedi was brought to the court in the afternoon. The Magistrate asked him whether he had any complain against police, to which he replied in the negative. After the proceedings, Trivedi, sporting a beard, was whisked away by the police. He did not seek bail.
Outside the court, around 200 volunteers of India Against Corruption (which organised Hazare's rally last year) had gathered to support Trivedi. One of them distributed copies of a statement purported to be written by Trivedi in jail.
The statement read, "If telling the truth is against the country, then I am a traitor....If raising voice against injustice is against the country then I am a traitor..If the definition's of 'Patriot' and 'Traitor' have changed in the course of time, then I am a traitor".
"I oppose disrespect shown to the Constitution. I believe in the Constitution as well as Dr BR Ambedkar. Seeing disrespect to the Constitution pains me and I am trying to stop this through my cartoons," the statement in Hindi said.
"I am following the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi and serving the nation... Do not get bothered seeing me inside the jail. Remember, Anna Hazare has said that one should go to jail for the sake of nation."
According to the statement, Trivedi said he was not seeking bail because he was proud of whatever he did and he will do it repeatedly.
"I am not a criminal that I should deposit money and seek bail, but till the time the charges of sedition are not dropped against me, I will continue to be in jail," the statement added.
Trivedi had come to Mumbai on September 8 and went straight to Bandra-Kurla Police station where the complaint was registered against him. He was immediately arrested and produced before the court the next day.
Earlier, a team of Mumbai Police had gone to Kanpur to look for Trivedi. Not finding him, they had met his father. After Trivedi learnt that a complaint had been filed against him in Mumbai, he surrendered to police.