Assault on citizens’ rights

The country is passing through a critical period when the rights enjoyed by citizens in every country which claims to be democratic – the right to privacy, the right to free expression, the right to criticize who wield enormous powers over the life of citizens, the right to question decisions or remarks by men in authority – are coming under assault, are being abridged. Those in power are getting intolerant of criticism which is the essence of democracy. The arrest of a cartoonist in Tamilnadu is the latest instance of this assault. Cartoonist G. Bala posted a cartoon on his Facebook showing Chief Minister E. K. Palaniswami, the Tirunelveli Collector and Commissioner of Police covering their private parts with wads of currency notes in front of the charred body of an infant. The cartoon was the cartoonist’s reaction to the ghastly incident in which a family of four including two minor children set themselves ablaze before the Tirunelveli Collector to escape from the harassment of a usurious moneylender.
The cartoonist has been arrested and charged with defaming the Chief Minister and the government officials, showing them in poor light, casting aspersions on their dignity and transmitting ‘obscene material’ in electronic form. Cartoons have been a popular form of exposing the weaknesses or special characteristics of eminent men or men in public life. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru immensely enjoyed his cartoons drawn by the famous cartoonist Shankar. One cartoon of Shankar’s he liked so much that he got it framed and put it on his reading table. It is idle to expect the same breadth of vision, the same level of cultural attainment and the same tolerance of criticism of Jawaharlal from the pigmies that strut about the public domain now. Even so there has to be a limit to misuse of power by those the people have voted to rule only for a limited period of five years.
Little wonder that the Tirunelveli District Court has granted him bail. After his release, Bala said: “I did not commit a murder. No regrets. Will continue to highlight the inefficiency of the government through my cartoons. I will continue, won’t stop.” The only effective way to resist misuse of power and authority is for the citizens to zealously guard their freedoms, come what may. The price of liberty is not only eternal vigilance but also the willingness to suffer, if need be, to protect that valued gift of democracy – liberty.

Monday, 6 November, 2017