My “Inside Story” with Aseem Trivedi

There is currently a storm of speculation around Aseem Trivedi. I have been somewhat updated on this situation as well as in direct contact with Aseem and Alok (his best friend, also here in Mumbai) on email. Sharing what I know.

This is an IAC stunt to get TRPs

To the best of my knowledge, this is not true. When Aseem arrived in Mumbai to go to the police station to be arrested, he did not consult with either IAC or us free speech activists, bloggers, others – which was actually one of our complaints because this could have been managed better to bring awareness to the crisis of free speech in India – which I freely admit is a goal of mine.

When I heard of Aseem landing up to get arrested, I was fairly frustrated, because I had no one I could leave my son with to go to help. I called up Praveen A of the newly forming Pirate Party India and suggested he might want to go there in support, because freedom of speech is a core value for the Party and members. He went there and stayed there ever since, extending his visit to Mumbai to help Alok because he was largely alone and overwhelmed without immediate company now that Aseem was in jail. This doesn’t sound like an IAC stunt to me. Praveen A knew nothing till he landed up at the police station. He is a software engineer I only know through email, who went there on my suggestion. And he, a stranger became a lifeline – would this be possible in a publicity stunt? The seat next to the heroes being empty?

Two other people Kamayani Mahibal and Geeta Sheshu who are among the core planners of what to do in Mumbai are both staunch critics of IAC as well as the right wing overall – in the sense that there are no affiliations beyond a group of people staying in touch for activism over freedom of speech.

Aseem Trivedi broke the law and is using outrage to bend rules

To my knowledge, it isn’t clear what laws he broke still, other than the charge under IT Act, which can frankly be applied to anything you don’t like. He isn’t using outrage to bend rules as far as I know either, because while he is ready to serve time in jail to become yet another example of a law he thinks is wrong, he didn’t actually have any game plan. He had no lawyers planned, went and presented himself at the police station with next to no planning. The attention he did get were largely the hurried efforts of us friends who *Alok* kept updated – again with frustratingly little planning. Almost every protest action was planned on the fly after his arrest. This is still the situation.

Aseem is purposely staying in jail for publicity

Gandhi did that, you know? I dare you to sneer at him. That is what Satyagraha is, no? I invite people criticizing him for not seeking bail to ask themselves what their problem is if he is known to be arrested for something wrong?

I did the same when I kept a post up for 36 hours on getting a takedown notice just so it would get publicity for how the law was being misused. Many of the same people called me a hero then. I see nothing wrong in being visible as a public example of misuse of law so that people may examine it, form their opinions and bring about awareness and change if they don’t like what they see. Bail is not compulsory. It is not illegal to refuse bail.

The complaint was filed by a citizen who was offended by the cartoons

This is true. I spoke with Amit Katarnawre, a Buddhist from Mumbai. He confirmed that he has no political affiliations. He filed the case because he thought the cartoon of Kasab urinating on the Indian Constitution had no relevance to the fight against Corruption, and the Indian Constitution was in no way responsible to any undue advantages to Kasab either. He sees it as a deliberate sensationalist ploy and an insult to the Constitution.

He speaks of police reluctance to file complaint for a long time and accuses Aseem of avoiding police inquiry and changing phone numbers to avoid being found and hiding from police. This is somewhat congruent to a police charge of “fraudulently obtained SIMs” which basically belong to people from his family.

Amit Katarnawre had no clear answer for how a cartoon could result in a charge under Prevention of Insults to National Honor, when the law is specifically about the actual flag or constitution being harmed, but insisted that it was an insult and offensive. When asked about the Sedition Act with reference to the 1962 judgment in the Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar case which spoke of the condition of an armed uprising being incited by misuse of freedom of speech for a charge of sedition to be made, he said that the cartoons would have triggered violence all over the country if he hadn’t blocked all copies of them found on the internet. He seems unaware of the blogspot blog(?) or at least did not mention any cartoons still available on the internet, but that explains the mystery of the censorship attempts on Aseem Trivedi’s original site.

He also brought up the subject of religious sentiments and said that he wanted charges brought up under 295a of the IPC for hurting religious sentiments of Buddhists/Dalits, because both Emperor Ashoka and Ambedkar are figures revered by Buddhists in India. He spoke of Anti-Aseem agitations being planned for insulting religious personalities. He said that insults to other religions bring outrage, but nobody cares when Dalit icons are insulted.

Who is Amit Kararnaware?

Amit Katarnaware is a resident of Mumbai, law student and a activist for dalit, women and children’s rights. From his speech, it sounded like he may be dalit and Buddhist himself, though I did not ask him, since it makes no difference to me if he himself is or not. What is more important is how he perceived it. He saw Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons at the IAC protest in Mumbai and proceeded to file a complaint. He is also behind the blocking of the cartoons on the internet. This information is directly from him and not verified from any other sources.

Did Aseem evade arrest?

I don’t think so, but I don’t know. The police are referring to use of SIM cards in the name of family members as “fraudulently obtained”, which frankly makes no sense. He may be using them for a while, or he may have purchased them using their documents – it is a fairly common phenomenon.

The phone I use was bought in the name of my husband, because he went to the telephone exchange and filled the form. The phone my husband uses was got in the name of my mother-in-law, because when he got it, MTNL used to charge an extra deposit from new customers, while existing customers of landlines could get it without the deposit – the landline at home was in my mother-in-law’s name.

When I tried to buy a mobile number recently, my papers were inadequate, as I don’t have a passport since I don’t go abroad, I don’t have a licence because I don’t drive and I don’t have a voters card because I don’t vote. I do pay tax and have a pan card as well as a ration card as well as a marriage certificate showing my address, but apparently it wasn’t enough and I was recommended to get the card in someone else’s name – *anyone* else’s – related or not by three shopkeepers and phone support for Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance – so it seems to be an established workaround. They had no answer for why having access to accurate information of me was less preferrable to say a photocopy of a driving licence of an office coworker who may know next to nothing about me if I chose to misuse the phone and go missing.

So I completely fail to see how using a SIM card registered in the name of a family member is a crime. Or for that matter in the name of an utter stranger, when helplines of providers suggest it too.

I do know that once the non-bailable warrant was issued in his name, his family got a visit from police where they were intimidated. He came to Mumbai and presented himself in the police station on his own initiative, not arrested and brought here. I don’t know why police were unable to find him, since he didn’t seem to particularly be in hiding or anything.

It is unclear if the police were reluctant to act, but pressured, or it they were genuinely unable to find him. A few more interviews will be happening.

So, is the government innocent?

Not in my eyes. Governance, upholding constitution is their job, which they are failing at. The culture of arbitrary censorship too, while it has been set up to let “ordinary citizens” silence speech, I am yet to come across an unjust silencing of someone with speech in alignment with the Congress, which seems to miraculous, it sets off my bull-shit-o-meter. Or the right wing are the real tolerant people in the country? o_O Do the math.

In my view there definitely is some mechanism preventing injustice against some interests, but not all. There also seems to be an extraordinary tendency for censorship attempts by citizens that look like persecution and are in line with government wishes often duplicating or supporting government stands. I have no proof though beyond my observations, but this smells like a fish market from here.

 

None of this changes the fact that so far, his cartoons don’t actually seem to have broken laws, caused violence or intended harm to India. We cannot persecute people over feeling offended.

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About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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