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The Arrest of Aseem Trivedi

The Arrest of Aseem Trivedi

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Published by: Sukumar Muralidharan on Sep 09, 2012
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The Arrest of Aseem Trivedi Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist associated with India Against Corruption, has been arrested

by Mumbai police to face charges under the law on sedition and other clauses. There is a firmly established legal precedent in the interpretation of the sedition clause of the Indian Penal Code (the case of Kedar Nath Singh settled by the Supreme Court as far back as 1962) which holds it ultra vires of the fundamental right to free speech, unless invoked to deal with an imminent threat of violence unleashed with the specific purpose of toppling the legally constituted Indian State. To apply the clause to the cartoons in question sketched by Trivedi, clearly strains the existing judicial interpretation. The other law under which Trivedi is charge has been identified in a recent newspaper report as State Emblems (Prevention of Misuse) Act. I have not been able to find such a law with all my googling. The possible reference here is to the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Misuse) Act of 1950. Scrolling through the available text of this act (which is just two pages) one finds in the schedule, a list of the emblems and names that are protected. Clearly, the intent here was to prevent the commercial misuse of the emblems and names that have wide national and international currency (such as the Olympics symbol which our dear friend Suresh Kalmadi has obtained ample mileage out of). There is nothing there which prevents the use of emblems or names in legitimate political criticism or commentary, nor are the Ashoka pillar and the houses of parliament, both of which were caricatured in Trivedi’s recent cartoons, listed in the schedule. The Supreme Court has actually dealt with this act only once as far as I can tell from all my trawling through the web. That was in 2004 when it upheld a plea by the Congress MP and mining racketeer Naveen Jindal, that he -- and indeed all citizens -- should have the liberty to fly the national flag (with honour and dignity) at any place of his choosing. Clearly, the law and the existing judicial interpretations of it, pertain only to commercial misuse and not to expressions of political dissent. Finally, there is another law which has not been mentioned, but could be invoked in Trivedi’s case, which is the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act. Here again, the symbols of national honour that are mentioned are only the national flag and the constitution. And the acts actually proscribed are only the physical violation of these symbols, as in the public burning of the tricolour or a copy of the constitution. The Indian flag is defined very broadly to include "any representation" of "any part" of it. So even a cartoon showing a politician trampling over the flag (as a representation of the disrespect that they show to national interest) could potentially, be interpreted as an offence under this act. There have however, been very few judicial determinations of what is right and what is not under this law. The only judgment which I have been able to uncover pertains to that rather idiotic and gimmicky petition by some publicity seeking ass, seeking the outlawing of the national anthem, since it referred to "Sindh" which is now in Pakistan and did not mention several states that are now in India. In short, there is no law or legal precedent under which Trivedi could be prosecuted.

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