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Political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi speaks at the University of Limerick

Political cartoonist and activist, Aseem Trivedi, whose cartoons sparked controversy in India’s 2011 anti-corruption movement, spoke at the University of Limerick last week.

The event was organised by the School of Culture & Communication and the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics at the University of Limerick in conjunction with Front Line Defenders.

In a conversation with Dr Fergal Quinn from the School of Culture & Communication and Muireann Prendergast from the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics, the Indian cartoonist spoke about his experiences in India and how his cartoons gained worldwide attention.

Aseem Trivedi in conversation with Fergal Quinn and Muireann Prendergast. Photo: Andrew Roberts

Best known for his anti-corruption campaign ‘Cartoons Against Corruption’, Mr Trivedi spoke about why he created his website which was later banned by Mumbai Police in December 2011, prior to his arrest.

Mr Trivedi said, “I was trying to find a way to use my cartoons beyond the newspapers because when you have cartoons in newspapers they die in a day or two or in a week so I wanted them to last long and serve a purpose.”

He explained how the anti-corruption movement in India in 2011 gave him a reason to use his cartoons for a purpose and created his website ‘Cartoons Against Corruption’ to display them.

He spoke about the regulations in India which led to his arrest on charges of sedition, breach of Section 66A of the IT Act and disrespect of national symbols on September 8 2012.

“The constitution says you are able to express your views in any way you want but actually when you see the reality it doesn’t happen because India is a place where religions are quite strong and people are involved in different communities,” he said.

“They [People] are quite sensitive and sentimental about their symbols, about their religion, about their community,” he added.

Cartoons, such as one where he altered India’s three-lion national emblem and replaced them with wolves to highlight corruption, attracted the charges against him.

His cartoons attracted attention on media platforms worldwide, which he feels put pressure on the Indian government to release him from prison a short four days after his arrest.

Mr Trivedi believes that the charge of sedition against him was a step too far and he decided not to hire a lawyer and not to apply for bail until they removed the charge.

“Sedition means to initiate or to attempt to initiate a war against a nation and drawing a cartoon is not like a war against a nation,” he said.

“It was not about the creating of war against a nation so it was not me who had gone too far it was the policemen and the people who charged me, they had gone too far,” he continued.

Chairman Justice Markandey Katju of the Press Council of India defended Mr Trivedi and in a statement said that arresting a cartoonist or any other person who has not committed a crime, is itself a crime under the Indian Penal Code, as it is a wrongful arrest and wrongful confinement.

Sedition charges were dropped by the Mumbai High Court one month after his release from prison and Section 66A of IT Act was scrapped by the Supreme Court in March 2015 with Mr Trivedi now facing only one charge which he is yet to be summoned for.

Displaying samples of his work to the audience, Mr Trivedi explained why a particular cartoon he drew after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris is his favourite work to date. The three panel cartoon depicted the Prophet Muhammad and a cartoonist and portrayed a time of fear within society and a time where Mr Trivedi felt “disturbed” by the attacks.

Aseem Trivedi showing the audience samples of his work. Photo credit: Andrew Roberts

“Fear should not lead the thoughts, fear should not control the society, fear should not control the lives, the way we live and it should be our intellect and our conscious that controls us not fear. Fear should never be in the lead position,” he said.

He highlighted the importance of using social media as a platform for freedom of speech while displaying another cartoon captioned, ‘If the pen is mightier than the sword, then Facebook is mightier than the gun’.

“We had the right to express but we didn’t have a medium. Social media gave us a medium. So it was not a very good thing for the government because they didn’t want people to be so vocal,” he said.

“Freedom of speech starts at the moment your freedom ends. When your freedom stops existing your freedom of speech takes over,” he continued.

Mr Trivedi’s latest project ‘Black and White’ is an online cartoon magazine which aims to support human rights defenders through his cartoons.

The campaign supports artists, bloggers and journalists who face censorship, fake charges, unlawful detentions, unfair trial and inhuman sentences for their work in any part of the world.

Speaking about the work that Mr Trivedi undergoes, Programme Manager of Human Rights Defenders, Tara Madden, said, “Not only is he a human rights defender raising human rights issues in his own country, he’s now began telling stories of human rights in other countries with visuals that are really effective.”

Mr Trivedi concluded the conversation by saying he is back living in India and he feels safe in his country. “I am safe and I feel safe,” he said.

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