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Instead of drawing sedition charges, cartoons should be protected as free speech
The government has deployed an H-bomb to slay a rabbit. Turning the sedition law on cartoonists is as ridiculous as issuing fatwas against them. The work of Aseem Trivedi, the Kanpur-based cartoonist who was arrested on Saturday, is not exactly brilliant, but even indifferent cartoonists should have the freedom to draw and publish what they want without fear of being accused of being an enemy of the state. The law of sedition laid down in Section 124A of the IPC has been frequently misused to target writers, speakers, opinion-makers and whistleblowers. But now, the government has descended to new depths, attacking cartoons that were not even widely circulated until the sedition charges were brought, and which pose absolutely no threat to its sovereignty.
The trouble with Article 124A is that it can be invoked in such situations, where the government may be only embarrassed, not harmed. In jurisdictions where sedition law remains on the statute books, it is defined as incitement to rebellion against the state. The cartoons in question advocated nothing of the sort. However, this does not matter because the Indian law skirts this definition altogether. Rather, it criminalises attempts to arouse disaffection or contempt for the state. But that is what cartoons are supposed to do, as the visual element of the public discourse critiquing government. Rather than attracting sedition charges, cartoons should be protected as free speech by the government.