Why is this cartoonist caged?

IN Media Practice | 23/04/2012
Aseem Trivedi is determined to bring the fight for freedom in the virtual media into the 'real' world - on the street, in full view of the public.
GEETA SESHU speaks to him about the ‘Saveyourvoice’ campaign against the IT rules.
On Sunday, April 22, 2012, ‘Save Your Voice’ campaign put artists, writers, cartoonists and others in symbolic cages in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to highlight the plight of all creative artists under the IT rules. Campaign founder Aseem Trivedi speaking to NDTV said,”The power of social media has become its own enemy. The speed at which social media has reached and empowered those people, has scared the politicians”.
A statement from the group states: The IT rules have caged our freedom which was granted by the constitution of free India. It is about our basic democratic right of free speech. It is about police not knocking on our doors for forwarding emails. It is about what you and I can put up on our blogs without worrying whether it hurts the rich and the powerful. We support free speech, free knowledge and free software.
“We also want to raise awareness at the annulment motion filed by Kerala MP P Rajeeve against the rules in the Rajya Sabha. The motion is expected to come up for discussion at the end of the month,” said the campaign founder and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who faced a virtual midnight knock when his cartoon website rudely disappeared in December 2011!
Barely two months after he launched his website www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.com, Aseem Trivedi found that he couldn’t access the site. After phone calls and emails to the web portal ‘Big Rock’, which hosted the site, he got a response: the site was suspended because it contained “objectionable pictures and texts related to the flag and emblem of India.” After more attempts to elicit information, Trivedi found that a complaint had been lodged with the Mumbai Cyber Crime Cell by an advocate Rajendra Pratap Pandey.
Subsequently, Trivedi, a resident of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, learnt that he was also charged with sedition (under Sec 124A of the Indian Penal Code) in Beed district of Maharashtra, at least 400 Kms from Mumbai. He was told of news-reports of another case charging him with showing disrespect to the national emblem, but has no details on this.
Trivedi was at first taken aback by the blatant censorship of the site. “Initially, I was a bit rattled. But I refused to let this stop me. All I did was host my cartoons against corruption. I had taken active part in the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption campaign for the Lokpal bill and my cartoons have appeared in local newspapers,” he said.
Trivedi lost no time in transferring all the cartoons to a blog he quickly created. “Besides finding an online space for my cartoons, I also started ‘Saveyourvoice’ campaign with friends and some of the leaders of the Team Anna campaign. We began having meetings in different cities – in Meerut, Ujjain, Bangalore and Kochi. Some students of Rohtak University read about our campaign and held an independent meeting in Rohtak.”
‘Save your voice’ campaign went viral. There were Facebook pages and posts and a cheeky ‘wish Kapil Sibal day’ on April 1, on All Fools Day, to draw attention to the stand of the Union Information Technology minister against allegedly objectionable content on the internet.
The campaign was targeted at the draconian rules framed under the Information Technology Act, 2000. It received an unexpected fillip with the arrest of Kolkata professor Ambikesh Mahapatra in April 2012 for emailing a cartoon that poked fun at West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to members of the cooperative housing society he was the secretary of.
The arrest drew widespread opprobrium from all quarters. Protests against the arrests followed and spawned another rash of cartoons poking fun at the West Bengal Chief Minister’s sense of humour. A cartoon academy in Kerala even hosted an online cartoon exhibition as a mark of protest.
Cartoonists have been at the receiving end of the baton for some time now. Cartoonist Harish Yadav was arrested in Bhopal in September 2011 (u/s 295 IPC) for an allegedly derogatory cartoon against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi after the latter shied away from wearing a Muslim cap during his controversial sadhbhavana rallies. The cartoon was published in Prabhat Kiran, a newspaper published from Indore.
Other instances of cartoonists, bloggers or hosts of Facebook pages that were intimidated into taking down their content are also growing. But these need documentation. At the moment, says Trivedi, most people don’t speak up. In all the meetings his group organized in different cities, people came up to talk about the problems they had and the adverse reaction to anything they write or draw.
Save your voice campaign has also received support from several organisations that focus on the internet and law, research and software freedom. They include the Knowledge Commons, Software Freedom Law Centre, India, Delhi Science Forum, Save Your Voice Campaign, Internet Democracy Project, Centre for Internet and Society, Free Software Movement India, IT for Change and Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.
But Trivedi, who rues the general lack of awareness amongst people on the censorship inherent in the IT rules, hopes that the ‘Save Your Voice’ campaign will resonate in other media too. In an increasingly wired world, censorship on the Internet will affect all media and directly impact free flow of information as well as clamp down on dissent and alternative viewpoints from the ground.
Click here for more on the chilling effect of the IT Act for intermediaries.
Click here for more on the IT Rules and data security.
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The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

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