10.9.12

Cartooning the Constitution: Look before you leak

When I say that you cannot be proud of something you are born in or with unless you contribute to it, including religion and the nation, I am asked, “So you don’t get goosebumps during the national anthem?” This is not the response of only the rightwing, but also centrists, and libertarians. My goosebumps for anything are a personal matter. Flashing fidelity is an insecure reaction, in personal relationships and in patriotism.



When a political cartoonist from the anti-corruption movement shows the Indian Parliament as a toilet bowl, should not the response be the same? If he depicts the symbols of the Indian Constitution in a manner that insults the symbols rather than pulling up those who abuse it, then why is he held up as an example of freedom of expression?

Aseem Trivedi is arrested. He refuses a lawyer. He has nothing to say in his defence. Reportedly, “he prefers to be jailed than live in a farcical freedom where activists are targeted and freedom of speech is denied”.

The farcical freedom he talks about has occupied grounds and done little else. IAC cannot take credit for any expose of scams. His stance is no different from the cries of “jail bharo”. This will help the movement come back into the limelight.

We do know that sedition charges don’t stick. But those who are charged with it get sympathy and a free ticket to ‘victim’ heaven. Has anything happened to Arundhati Roy? Isn’t Dr. Binayak Sen happily sitting in the Planning Commission, appointed by the very government that had sentenced him?

The following are Trivedi's cartoons and what they say and what they mean:


  • “Gang Rape of Mother India” shows a politician, a bureaucrat and a devil (corruption) standing around ‘Mother India’; the politician is saying “come on hurry up”.

Besides the obvious crassness, the use or rape and mother/woman are exceedingly sexist. The “hurry up” gives it hormonal legitimacy, even when trying to make a statement. The message that comes across is the enjoyment on the faces of the ‘characters’. This is not the Bible, where the Devil can be the tempter.

Wasn’t there objection to artist M.F.Husain depicting something similar?


  • ‘New National Symbols’ shows the Ashoka Pillar with three wolves, their jaws dripping blood with the caption “Wolfs with the sign of Danger,” and ‘Satyameva Jayate’ replaced with ‘Bhrashtameva Jayate’.

Why does the cartoonist not name politicians or caricature specific people, besides working on his spelling? It is easy to throw stones at inanimate monuments and slogans. But, then, the IAC movement has been a lot of hot air, hitting out at totems, for naming people would be naming their hidden allies.



  • Ajmal Kasab is depicted as a dog, urinating on the Constitution of India.

What does this say? There is a line “Who is responsible?” Do people supporting him realise what this means? That the Indian Constitution is responsible for terror attacks?

It is obvious that Trivedi lacks subtlety. He is not an independent voice. His series of cartoons are politically-motivated as they are under the banner of India Against Corruption.

An IAC spokesperson said that they were not given copies of his arrest and not allowed to meet him:

“The police kept pushing him and once his head banged against the jeep. This is not the way to treat a political cartoonist. He is not a terrorist.”

The police attitude is uncalled for, and they must register a complaint. It seems it is easier to use the media as Mayank Gandhi of the IAC does:

"The case has been registered simply because Aseem had participated in the BKC protest organized by Anna Hazare and had raised his voice against corruption. So the government is trying to scuttle his protest in this manner."

If his arrest is due to political reasons, one wonders why it took so long for the police to act. Here is the reason:

A senior police officer told The Hindu that the complaint against Mr. Trivedi was filed on December 30, 2011 for his posters and cartoons which insulted the national symbols of honour. When asked why the police acted only now, he said that Mr. Trivedi could not be found and it was only 20 days ago that his location was tracked through his mobile phone.

This does not ring true. The noise against the ruling party only proves that a movement that is now fragmented and quite on a limb is looking for sustenance, and some media coverage. Who made this move?

Twenty-seven-year old Amit Arvind Katarnaware, who has no political affiliations:

“When I saw the cartoons and posters at the IAC agitation, I was shocked that the Constitution was insulted and the posters were trying to divide communities.”

His complaint named Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and others from the IAC, but Trivedi was the prime target.

Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju said:

“From the information I have gathered, the cartoonist did nothing illegal, and in fact, arresting him was an illegal act. A wrongful arrest is a serious crime under the Indian Penal Code Section 342, and it is those who arrested him who should be arrested. Police officers, who obey such illegal orders of politicians, should be put on trial and given harsh punishment, just like the Nazi officials at the Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal.”

This is characteristically dramatic, and contradictory to his earlier position on self-censorship in the media and social networks.

He makes a puerile comment:

“Either the allegation is true, in which case you deserve it; or it is false, in which case, you ignore it. This kind of behaviour is not acceptable in a democracy.”

What exactly does this denote?  

There is no allegation against an individual or organisation. It is against corruption and it makes the Indian Constitution responsible for it.

As regards the law, he knows more about it. What about this:

“Whoever in any public place or in any other place within public view burns, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples upon or otherwise shows disrespect to or brings into contempt (whether by words, either spoken or written, or by acts) the Indian National Flag or the Constitution of India or any part thereof.” (Section 2 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act 1971)


For a few days, there will be the usual drum-beating on Aseem Trivedi’s behalf. He is as much of an “activist”, as Kabir Bedi, Shekhar Kapur, Anupam Kher, Om Puri are overnight saviours of India from corruption. His dishevelled look is good photo-op. He looks the part of ‘What Young India Wants’ – a few warts they can take shots at in the bowling alleys of their exclusive clubs.


(c) Farzana Versey

- - -

My earlier post on the Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon controversy

Update:

Had a politician said that parliament is a toilet bowl, would we accept it? Had a separatist leader talked about the ‘gang-rape of Mother India’, would we keep quiet?

This is from my other piece on this appears in today's Express Tribune.

20 comments:

Manvendra Nigam said...

After seeing the cartoon there must be limit some where. I hadnt any sympathy for such hate speech Its like provoking a bull and than enjoying bulls rage.
Fact is cartoons are cheap and vulgar

Free and Footloose said...

FV,

We must not confuse between the two issues. The Salman Rushdie test applies here as well. I too find the cartoons to be in poor taste. But that is neither here nor there. Arresting a cartoonist under sedition charges would be an idea funnier that any cartoon if it wasn't part of sinister action plan of a govt.

The same wetpants sekulaar govt, however, had no guts to throw that hate-preaching oracle called Arundhati Roy behiind bars.

mstaab said...

Farzana,

I think the offensiveness of the examples you provide depends on the literal take the viewer may hold respecting these images (or iconography). "Mother" India, for example. Parliament as a "body." The "guardians" atop the Ashoka Pillar. The Constitution of India (laws crafted by fallible men and women) as a "sacred tome" . . .

I agree these cartoons are lacking in subtlety (and humour, for the most part), but, for what it's worth, I don't think the folk who are conditioned by the objectification of ideas (and the mystification of objects) are particularly subtle thinkers.

M.

FV said...

Manvendra:

Exactly. It is all about red rags.

F&F:

If it was a govt's action plan, why did it wait this long? And now why did the 'martyr' agree to bail so soon after making those dramatic statements?

Some seculars do mention Roy. Have you read the piece? Or do you only look at the pictures here?!

FV said...

mstaab:

I agree that subtlety can lack in both - the cartoons as well as most 'perceivers'.

But is not the literal also about allusions, irrespective of who made them?

Take 'sacred tome'. With scriptures too, the word of god needed a messenger, a human, with foibles.

In the case of the Constitution, the men are less than messengers than representatives of the 'pillars', the nurturing 'mothers'. When politicians fail, as they do often, they are not spared. Their betrayal is like that of Judas, perhaps?

PS: Mark, good to see you and to bring in the 'real' symbolism.

mstaab said...

I take your point(in your Trib piece), Farzana, relative to certain political maneuverings viz these cartoons.

>>But is not the literal also about allusions, irrespective of who made them<<

No . . . and yes. A lion is a lion until it is carved in stone and placed atop a pillar. We will then ask: "What meanest thou, O Artist, in the likeness of this lion and in the placing of it atop a pillar?"

Of course, if the lion or lions were crafted by the artist under contract and according to spec, we must then turn to the contractor for the answer. :)

It seems to me the same is true of words. We hear, say, of the "lion" of Chandigargh; but this lion is not a lion at all, but a reference to some notable person. Thus: "What meanest thou, O Messenger? Why callest thou this man a 'lion,' when he is a man?"

Answer: "Because he is courageous, and strikes fear into the hearts of his enemies."

"Lion," then, alludes to courage and the instilling of fear -- at least, according to this messenger. However, what if, as with the emperor who had no clothes, the "lion" of Chandigargh proves to be not-so-courageous and a mockery to his enemies?

At issue then, as it seems to me, is who gets to interpret -- who gets to give voice to these symbols -- and how this then 'authoritative' voice measures up, however allusively, to the broader perception of reality.

Of course, as likewise suggested in the parable of the emperor who had no clothes, the broader perception of reality is too easily manipulated. One may easily find, for example, in the incarceration of another, some allusion relative to one's own liberty . . .

As always, Farzana, it's a pleasure to be seen by you. :)

Mark

Free and Footloose said...

FV,

QUOTE: "Some seculars do mention Roy. Have you read the piece?"


???? Didn't get the point. I thought it was with the govt that I had an axe to grind. Why are the sekulaars taking umbrage at the mention? Aren't they too, making me look like a Dharmyoddha, no matter what the context? (Refer your reply to my comment elsewhere!)

FV said...

Mark:

:) I shall reply to your comment later. It's almost 1.30 am and what you write needs a bit more than drowsiness.

Okay? Thanks...

F&F:

You are right. Whenever you mention secular with a K I think it is in the general direction of nowhere. Besides, I wanted to take credit for not sparing Roy!

FV said...

Mark:

A lion is a lion until it is carved in stone and placed atop a pillar. We will then ask: "What meanest thou, O Artist, in the likeness of this lion and in the placing of it atop a pillar?”…Of course, if the lion or lions were crafted by the artist under contract and according to spec, we must then turn to the contractor for the answer. :)

But the lion by itself represents a certain kind of ‘beasthood’ as opposed to others. The artist will then use her/his allusion. A contractual blueprint will come with a collective social/political metaphor.

Re. the use of lion for a person

Because he is courageous, and strikes fear into the hearts of his enemies…However, what if, as with the emperor who had no clothes, the “lion” of Chandigargh proves to be not-so-courageous and a mockery to his enemies?

Here, lion is a quality as represented by animal, therefore a superimposition, a sort of mask/veil. Masks and veils by nature camouflage. The lion-man might be fleet-footed – is it a cheetah or a deer forced into the role of lion?

What is the role of reality in perception as against the role of perception in reality? Can a naked emperor still be called an emperor with no clothes for what it conveys?

Manipulating the manipulation!

Many thanks for, as always, taking a lion leap.

mstaab said...

Jes' doin' what ah can with what ah got, ma'am. :)

>>But the lion by itself represents a certain kind of ‘beasthood’ as opposed to others.<<

Any more than secular with a "k", I don't know that the lion by itself represents anything. To the beholder -- from a distance (or in a more, shall we say, 'intimate' encounter) -- yes, certainly the lion may come to represent something. And what it may come to represent depends, it seems to me, on the nature of the encounter(s).

>>The artist will then use her/his allusion.<<

Indeed, but depending on the nature of *my* encounter(s) with the lion(s), I may not get his/her allusion. That said, if the work is for the artist's personal satisfaction or meant only to display his/her skill in accuracy of reproduction (and/or the putting it on a pillar merely an advertisement of that skill) it may not be important that I get his/her allusion (*if* there is indeed any allusion other than "hire me for your decorative impulses"). :)

>>A contractual blueprint will come with a collective social/political metaphor.<<

What is the provenance of that collective social/political metaphor? What if I have never encountered a lion, but only know it only from its beastly reputation among my fellows? Certainly I may wish to defer to the collective wisdom of those who have encountered a lion (or those who claim to have). And certainly one might suggest that this was the dynamic at work prompting the effulgent praise for the emperor's "new" clothes (and, by extension, the designer of them) -- i.e., the suggestion is that it looked to some, if not many among those gathered to behold his new clothes, as if their emperor was without any; but they nonetheless deferred to some apparent unanimity among those *representing* their collective wisdom . . .

Why?

>>Manipulating the manipulation!<<

Aye, so it would seem.

FV said...

Are you saying that being a lion & representing that existence is nothing?

The secular with a 'k' is deliberate distortion. Like looking at a lion's tail & thinking it could be possibly be a duster. It is beyond the lion.

One may never encounter a lion. But say a shadow play or puppet show or animation film may give it a natural lion-ness.

Reproductive skills, as it were, are rather different from perception even by the artisan. Therefore, “advertisement of skill” would transform it into a creator-observer at the same time.

>>A contractual blueprint will come with a collective social/political metaphor.<<

What is the provenance of that collective social/political metaphor? What if I have never encountered a lion, but only know it only from its beastly reputation among my fellows? Certainly I may wish to defer to the collective wisdom of those who have encountered a lion (or those who claim to have).


Yes. That applies to the artisan as well, who might 'unmemorise' the creation, and see it as a collective metaphor. Take statues of political leaders. An uneducated artisan might not be aware of the history or the person’s role. He goes by a photograph, which is again a nano-second of expression. That does not take away from what the person did, irrespective of how others have viewed him.

The emperor’s new clothes, without clothes denote different collective wisdoms. They also can be perceived individually in a different manner. Nakedness as garment of ‘exposure’.

Ways of seeing are indeed manipulation of past and the moment, often together.

Thanks, Mark. I think we’ve taken the mickey out of the lion by now.

mstaab said...

Thank you for your generosity in your space and time. If I may?

>>Are you saying that being a lion & representing that existence is nothing?<<

While I occasionally allude, in this instance all I am saying is: "I don't know that the lion by itself represents anything."

>>The secular with a 'k' is deliberate distortion.<<

Of conventional spelling, yes (much like Lyon, Leon, or lyin' sounds the same or refers to the same). What secular with a 'k' implies, alludes to or *represents* beyond that is beyond me. I might, however, speculate (Mecca is to Makkah as secular is to sekulaar?) and, upon conclusion, leave it be or respond in kind, defer to your judgement, or interrogate the 'distorter'. Thus, we may as well ask:

"What meanest thou, O Writer, by this 'distortion'? Nothing or something?"

Then we can talk about what constitutes nothing and what constitutes something. :)

>>Reproductive skills, as it were, are rather different from perception even by the artisan. Therefore, “advertisement of skill” would transform it into a creator-observer at the same time.<<

I do not well understand that. Any more than a dog understands the 'sanctity' of a Constitution (or a pair of shoes, for that matter -- though a dog, certainly, can be trained or conditioned not to gnaw on them), neither do I well understand how a lion is any more 'noble' than a slavering wolf.

I do, however, understand how a lion may come to represent nobility. And thus I can likewise understand how, in their collective wisdom, those representing the collective wisdom of the emperor's kingdom may have wanted to "preserve appearances," as they say, in their lyin' -- in their effulgent praise for their emperor's new clothes. Presumably, the young boy pointing out this . . . well, 'distortion' perhaps, simply didn't know any better. :)

Thanks again.

M.

Free and Footloose said...

FV,

Use of the word sekulaar (with a K) represents the view that the idea deserves ridicule, if not contempt. Especially when it is cynically turned into a stick to beat the majority community into unjust submission (wonder what could be the Arabic synonym for it!).

You can add that to your dictionary!

mstaab said...

Well, that's certainly an interesting construct, Footloose. It seems (I could be wrong, tho'), you're suggesting Farzana (and others of some minority community) are employing tactics formerly used by secularists to cow religionists (most notably, but not exclusively, beginning with the European Reformation and concluding -- somewhat prematurely -- with Fukuyama's, "The End of History and the Last Man") -- many of these likely sincere, well-meaning and conscientious nay-sayers being fronted (the enemy of my enemy is my friend) by what might be described as an "unholy" alliance of certain business and science interests.

Certainly, initially, the presumed objectives of these early secularists were ridiculed if not held in contempt; but you can see for yourself what has happened in the West. The implication -- near as I can tell -- is either there was an even larger, sort of "silent majority" unseen and unheard in and among the ostensible majority community, or that majority community was in some manner beguiled by the platitudes of business and science, e.g. "new" is better, which followed closely on the heels of conscientious objection (witness the "wolves" the cartoonist placed in lieu of the "lions" atop Ashoka's pillar).

Notwithstanding, and for what it's worth, my view -- maybe a shade or two different than yours -- is that the then "secularists" simply took a page from the Prophets . . .

Mark

FV said...

Mark:

It is not about the lion's nobility over that of others, but self-identity as identification.

Then we can talk about what constitutes nothing and what constitutes something. :)

Both have the possibility to become the other. Or, something happened, but it's nothing!

Re. secular with a 'K', now you put that in here and I gave my impression.

May I ask how F&F has added to your knowledge on the subject? When you mentioned it, you obviously implied him.

I can see a wicked grin!

- - -

F&F:

I can see viktimisation here...

Sad you need to distort a spelling to ridicule, or show contempt. We manage by just saying Hindutva. As it is.

There is a studied comment by Mstaab. Thought you'd respond to it. Or react!


Free and Footloose said...

FV,

Secularism itself is twisted by the sekulaars to suit predetermined ends of their own. The altered spelling conveys it rather accurately. To those who understand!
---
Good to see some sekulaar sarcasm there. For a long time the camp had been sulking because none of the recent provocations had come from the Hindu community! And it is sekulaar sacrilege to criticise Muslims, Prophets, Islam or Quran!
----
mstaab,

QUOTE: "you're suggesting Farzana (and others of some minority community) are employing tactics formerly used by secularists to cow religionists.."

Yes, but in the present case, it is not just any religionists. That would be unsekulaar, you see. They are only demonizing HINDU religionists.

The historical precedent that (I think!) you cite here is irrelevant to Hindu community. I hope those who actually need this advice, take it without calling it blasphemy.

mstaab said...

Farzana,

The only wicked grin I see is Rizwan's. :D

>>It is not about the lion's nobility over that of others<<

No, I don't think it is -- neither with the tamasha over the cartoons, nor with the emperor's "new" clothes.

>>. . . but self-identity as identification.<<

Certainly there may be some of that with respect to Dr. Singh's new reforms; but I suspect the young boy's concern with what he saw versus what his elders were saying viz the emperor's new ensemble had more to do with his own powers of identification (i.e. whether what he saw or identified with his own eyes could be trusted), not so much how he saw himself.

>>Re. secular with a 'K', now you put that in here and I gave my impression.<<

It was a reference to what you had said to Footloose a few responses prior: "Whenever you mention secular with a K I think it is in the general direction of nowhere" -- the sense of which seemed to me to also describe my own, "I don't know that the lion by itself represents anything."

>>May I ask how F&F has added to your knowledge on the subject? When you mentioned it, you obviously implied him.<<

Certainly. What's missing with respect to the lion is a read, interpretation, explanation and/or *assignment of representation* -- so too with Footloose's "sekulaar," which I took to be your allusion when you suggested it was "in the general direction of nowhere." He has since provided that read, interpretation, explanation and/or assignment of representation.

I can't say if I've learned any more about "sekulaar" as I have about Footloose; but then I see he has offered something further in a more recent reply. :)

M.

mstaab said...

Footloose,

I was kinda hoping you'd take it from the broadly general down to the more narrowly specific. I've been reading Farzana's blog now for about a half-dozen years, give or take, and can see *how* you might read some of her posts as "demonizing" of Shri Modi and, perhaps, the hindutva; but at the very most I've taken those to be *political* and not religious imprecations. Unless, of course, you see certain politicians as living saints and/or prophets?

If so, this does not bode well for political discourse at the grass-roots level (as such saints, prophets and/or their posterity often came to community bifurcating untimely ends).

>>The historical precedent that (I think!) you cite here is irrelevant to Hindu community.<<

How so? I have myself suggested merely shades of difference. Do you see Hindus as somehow removed from the larger community? Do you not see the smaller frame as a reflection of the larger, and vice-versa? Or is it a particular Hindu community to which you refer, wherein such "shades of difference" may hold or represent some greater significance or distinction?

If so, I'm all ears. :)

M.

mstaab said...

Speaking of lions and pedestals, Farzana, have you seen this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM

Perhaps in this instance we might equate the crocs to the press getting into the act?  :)

M.

FV said...

Mark:

Well before the 'evidence' you've provided, the protagonist in this post has moved on, and was a participant in the reality show 'Bigg Boss' where he displayed none of the revolutionary fervour that made him famous.

In that sense, the media and subject take turns playing croc. Their tears are synced, too:-)