When the Chief Minister of West Bengal gets a Kolkata professor arrested for allegedly posting ‘cartoons’ ridiculing her, you know it’s the end to ‘Freedom of Expression’. Prof Ambikesh Mahapatra, who teaches at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, has been charged for forwarding this cartoon-spoof, inspired by ‘Sonar Kella’ meaning The Golden Fort, a film by renowned Filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
Here the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee and Railway Minister, Mukul Roy are seen exchanging dialogues from the film, discreetly related to the replacement of the former Railway Minister, Dinesh Trivedi. And here is a detailed explanation of the cartoon that tells you the exact scene adapted from the film and one can relate to an intelligent sense of humor behind it. Howsoever, this humor seems to have been abandoned in the Chief Minister’s reaction and she chose to get him arrested instead, on ridiculous charges, viz. eve-teasing (Section 509 of the IPC), defamation (Section 500 of the IPC), humiliating a woman (Section 114 of the IPC) and causing offence using a computer (Section 66 A (b) of the IT Act)!
So it does not come as a surprise that Twitteraties chose to react against the Mamata fiasco in the form of #arrestmenow. The hashtag that has also been the top trending topic on Twitter, is filled with jibes at Mamata and the ridiculous I.T. act. You can see the nature of the tweets in the screenshot below:
While the opposition is building a large hue and cry over this extreme violation of freedom of expression, we know that a major chunk of them would not tolerate, had this political spoof been made on them. So what happens to the people and their democratic and absolutely constitutional Right to Freedom of Expression? Some time back during the Jan Lokpal movement by Anna Hazare, Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist against corruption had his site closed down by the Mumbai Crime branch, based on a complaint citing the cartoons to be disrespectful to the country. Though he now continues with his cartoons against corruption through a blog, his fight for freedom of expression has taken the shape of ‘Save Your Voice’, a campaign fighting for our fundamental right to free speech. Protesting against this today, the Save Your Voice team, is going to make cartoons on the burning issues of West Bengal and upload it on the internet. You are invited to join them at India Gate from 5 pm to 6 pm.
Also, there have been numerous incidents of forcible ‘deletion’ of posts or entire websites or cases of ‘missing’ people who had raised their voice against the Government. To add to this, last year, the Minister of IT and Telecom, Kapil Sibal wanted Facebook, Google and 21 other social networking sites to censor ‘hurtful’ content, following a cartoon about the Leader of the Congress party. He almost got himself crucified on Twitter with #IdiotKapil trending for many days.
But what may be ‘deemed hurtful’ to one political party may not be so for the other one, so how can the Indian Government censor social media. Hence, these backlashes on Twitter!
We do not know how 2012 will shape up in terms of Free Speech for every individual on the Internet, but we do know that if we do not raise our voice now, we could risk losing it altogether. Cartoons or any other forms of expression need to be protected and above all we need a stronger I.T law and a workable social media policy in place.