After masked gunmen stormed the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian leaders condemned the assault and extended their support to France.
And, on Sunday, India’s ambassador to France joined the more than three million people marching through the grief-stricken country to mourn the 17 people killed.
But an Indian cartoonist who was arrested and charged for sedition in 2012 for poking fun at India’s Parliament and corruption says the response of Indian politicians is hypocritical.
“How can you support a cause internationally when, in your own country, cartoonists are targeted and victimized?” said Aseem Trivedi.
His arrest, Mr. Trivedi says, forced him to retire from the cartoon business. He still faces criminal trial in the Mumbai High Court for allegedly mocking the Indian constitution through his cartoons, although the sedition charge has been dropped.
Mr. Trivedi believes that “the only difference between what extremists did in France and what the government is doing here is that, in India, it is a bullet-free battle. The underlining cause — restricting free speech — remains the same.”
Cartoons that caused the stir at the time included Mr. Trivedi’s interpretation of the Indian national emblem, where four venomous wolves stand in place of King Asoka’s Sarnath lions. Further, the inscription on the emblem reads “Bhrashtamev Jayate” [Long Live Corruption] instead of “Satyamev Jayate” [Long Live Truth.]
Other controversial cartoons on Mr. Trivedi’s website included one where an Indian politician and a bureaucrat appear to assault a woman draped in a sari bearing the Indian tricolor, while a building strikingly similar to the Indian Parliament is labeled as the “National Toilet” in another cartoon.
Meanwhile, major Indian newspapers have run news, editorials and opinion columns about the attack and subsequent violence, but few republished the controversial cartoons of Charlie Hebdo.
Mint, India’s second-largest financial daily, was one of the few mainstream media outlets to publish some of the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons on its front page on Jan. 8. However, the newspaper removed the drawings subsequently with a note to readers:
“The front page visual capturing the unfortunate terrorist attack in Paris was carried in the best traditions of journalism. However, we have received feedback that it has offended some people. Since that was never the intention, we have removed the same. Mint stays committed to the principles of responsible journalism.”
Offending religious sentiments is punishable by Indian law. Promoting enmity between religious groups using words or visual representation can be punished with imprisonment up to three years, a fine or both.
One post on social media in Mumbai about the Charlie Hebdo incident, because it showed “malicious intent to offend religious sentiments,” has been removed in the aftermath of the killings, said Dhananjay Kulkarni, a senior police official in Mumbai.
The Mumbai police in 2014 removed around 650 posts and pages shared via social media sites like Facebook, said Mr. Kulkarni. “They were obscene, hurt religious sentiments and cause law and order problems,” he said.
Publishing obscene information in electronic form is punishable with up to 10 years in prison, and it is illegal to make or distribute pornography in India.
A national spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party declined to comment on whether Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons would be treated by the government as offensive.
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