Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi's use of national symbols to lampoon corruption may not have tickled the authorities but by arresting him they became the target of ridicule and anger: online and offline.
A court in Mumbai on Monday ordered the freelance journalist to be sent to judicial custody until September 24. He was first given to the police on Sunday after an arrest warrant was issued against him based on a political activist's complaint that his cartoons were "insulting" to the country. Trivedi also faces the very serious charge of sedition, and violation of IT security laws.
Trivedi, 25, was one of two winners of the 2012 "Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award" by the US-based Cartoonists Rights Network International. His cartoons lampooning corruption among politicians were displayed at a Mumbai protest in December by anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare.
One of Trivedi's cartoons showed the four lions that form Ashoka Chakra, India's national symbol, replaced by four wolves and the national slogan "truth shall prevail" replaced by "corruption shall prevail." Another cartoon showed Parliament as the "national toilet". He sketched a woman as "Mother India" being assaulted by a politician and a bureaucrat. A caption above this cartoon reads "gang rape of Mother India".
Are Trivedi's cartoons offensive? No, said 87.99% of respondents in an ONLINE POLL conducted on this website. A meagre 9.18 % respondents felt the cartoons are indeed offensive and 2.8% voters chose 'can't say' option. People on Twitter and free speech advocates protested Trivedi's arrest, alleging it proved politicians' growing intolerance for criticism.
A campaign on Twitter urged people to retweet Trivedi's cartoons or links to them and "offend" the government. The debate on Trivedi's cartoons was intense enough to make his name the top trending Twitter topic for the second day running.
"Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi sent to judicial custody till Sept 24. Has the government gone insane?" said Bhaskar Agarwal, who tweets as @bobbyfaith.
"And so the fight continues. Aseem Trivedi sent to judicial custody (jail) until September 24," tweeted senior journalist Sachin Kalbag.
Satirist Jaspal Bhatti made it clear that Trivedi's cartoons hadn't offended him. "The greatest disrespect to national symbols is when we use India's currency notes for corruption," he tweeted.
"Aseem Trivedi's cartoons try to shock you and wake you from the self-induced state: pretending to sleep and look innocent. Isn't it?" tweeted niket_kumar.
"We are very unhappy about the arrest as he has not committed any crime, he has just exercised his freedom of expression through his cartoons," V.G. Narendra, head of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists, told AFP. "Cartoonists should be given a free hand. We must have the ability to laugh at ourselves."
Kanpur-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi who was arrested on charges of posting seditious contents on his website is seen outside a Mumbai court. PTI
Earlier this year Trivedi established Save Your Voice, a group lobbying against Internet censorship, while he is also a supporter of India Against Corruption (IAC), the anti-graft campaign lead by Hazare.
A statement from IAC said they were "shocked" at the way he was treated by police, saying he was "badly roughed up and pushed in to the police vehicle where his head banged against the vehicle".
"IAC Mumbai will always support freedom of expression which is the right of every individual given to us by the constitution," it said.
Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju
, who is a former Supreme Court judge, called the sedition charge against Trivedi "stupid" and "unacceptable".
"The charges are stupid and this (drawing cartoons) is not sedition. This is misuse of the state machinery. Those politicians and policemen who have made this arrest should be arrested and put on trial," Katju told news channel CNN-IBN. "This is totally unacceptable what is being done against Aseem Trivedi."
The Maharashtra government, which seemed to be on the defensive, announced that it will consider Trivedi's case sympathetically. PTI reports state home minister R R Patil had said his government was trying to seek Trivedi's release.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) called the arrest "outrageous" and demanded an "urgent" review of sedition laws.
Trivedi, who refused to seek bail on Monday till the sedition charge against him is dropped, has claimed that his cartoons depict the "truth".
"If telling the truth makes me a traitor then I am one," Trivedi said outside court on Sunday. "If I am booked under sedition for doing service to the nation then I will continue to do so."
In New Delhi, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni disagreed. The government had "no problems" with cartoons, but "they should stay within constitutional parameters".
"They cannot make national symbols the object of their cartoon," she said.
@Thinkerspad on Twitter agreed. "Applaud the arrest of Aseem Trivedi. His idea of fighting corruption involves disrespecting Nation, National Emblems and Bharat Mata," tweeted @thinkerspad.
"As far as national symbol ethics and act are concerned, #AseemTrivedi has committed an offence," said Aditya Pratap Singh, who tweets as @apnesune.
Here are few tweets showing anger on Aseem's arrest:
My son was only depicting truth: Aseem's father
Katju defends arrested cartoonist Aseem Trivedi
Charges of sedition absurd, say lawyers
Aseem questioned, says won't back off
Aseem Trivedi sent to judicial custody till Sept 24
Arrest of cartoonist 'over-stretched', 'uncalled' for: Cong
Cannot target national symbols in cartoons: Government
Sedition, my guys and the kitchen sink?
(With inputs from PTI, AFP, AP, IANS and Reuters)