The world's largest democracy is being derided as ''intolerant India''. But those who run the country don't get the joke.
A court has jailed the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for anti-corruption cartoons it says are seditious, bringing him more attention than his drawings ever could.
Trivedi, an artist and anti-corruption campaigner in Kanpur, has been jailed under section 124A of India's penal code, the same law the British Raj used to imprison Mahatma Gandhi.
Trivedi has drawn the national Parliament as a giant toilet, suggested politicians' corruption was akin to drinking the blood of the people, and depicted the gang rape of ''mother India'' by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
But it is his reinterpretation of India's Ashok Chakra national emblem, changing the three lions atop a plinth to three salivating wolves, and altering the motto from ''Only truth triumphs'' to ''Only corruption triumphs'', that has attracted most controversy.
Acting on a complaint from a lawyer, police alleged his cartoons were ''ugly and obscene''.
When Trivedi refused a lawyer or to apply for bail, a Mumbai court jailed him for 14 days. ''If telling the truth makes me a traitor, then I am one,'' he said as he was arrested.
The Indian government is embroiled in yet another crippling corruption scandal in which coal-mining licences were corruptly allocated. It cost the government $33 billion. Scams of breathtaking size are almost routine under this government. Some see Trivedi's arrest as the latest example of growing intolerance to criticism on the part of Indian authorities.
When tensions between Muslims and north-east Indians flared in Bangalore and other cities last month, the government hurriedly shut down internet sites it felt were inflaming the issue. Twitter accounts that lampooned the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, were also blocked.
In May, six historical political cartoons were censored from a government school textbook, including one of first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, whipping B.R. Ambedkar, author of India's constitution, as Ambedkar sat on a snail, urging him to hurry up.
Yesterday, Trivedi's website remained accessible and the drawings uncensored. The Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Ambika Soni, defended the laws and the court's decision.
''We are not against democratic rights, we are all for free speech ... people have made cartoons of Nehru, Indira [Gandhi] earlier. But there is a thin line you draw between free speech and what can be termed as offensive especially against national symbols.''
But commentators and social media came out in fierce support for Trivedi. ''Scamsters who give away country's resources to friends for free are guilty of sedition, not cartoonists,'' the author Chetan Bhagat tweeted. Arvind Kejriwal, a leader of Indians Against Corruption, visited Trivedi yesterday, promising a mass protest unless he was released and charges dropped.
- Sydney Morning Herald