April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four. - Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894
|Punch 1904 admiring the Hindi version|
"...and what useful service, wherever reform is needed, our Indian cousin is always ready and willing to render. In some instances he appears to be a very hot Punch, steaming in fact, but that is a matter of climate. The Baron tenders congratulations on the present volume, and, on behalf of Mr .Punch himself, wishes Hindi Punch continued success in the future."Punch magazine gave birth to the word "cartoon" in June 1843 when they announced plans to publish a collection of their designs "...to be called Punch's Cartoons!" - derived from the French cartone which referred to strong heavy paper on which artists made sketches.
A little research showed that Punch had considerable influence in British India. Apparently there was also "The Oudh Punch", "The Delhi Punch", "The Punjab Punch", two versions of "The Indian Punch", "Urdu Punch", "Gujarati Punch", "Parsi Punch", "The Indian Charivari" and a "Hindu Punch". The last apparently got in the way of the law of the land and was declared seditious in 1909. Sure enough, researchers with access to such material have produced erudite books on the subjects of satire and sedition.
|Hindi Punch on war expenditure|
Much of the Hindi Punch of 1904 concentrates on social problems, war, taxes and the sops given to Indians. A recurring theme is the expenditure incurred in the Tibetan expedition of Younghusband. Satire was obviously an excellent way of reaching out to people in the face of anti-dissent/sedition laws. Sedition was broadly defined as "dissaffection" for the government, or in other words the lack of "affection"! There are a number of interesting historical documents on the Internet Archive and these include "A treatise on the law of sedition ... in British India" (1911), "Law relating to press and sedition" (1915), "Indian States (Protection Against Disaffection) Act (1922)" and "Sedition Committee Report 1918".
|A. O. Hume|
Looking at the text of some of these pieces, it seemed like my favourite British Indian ornithologist, A. O. Hume must have been a "seditionist" and sure enough I found evidence of such allegations. Hume's considered Government as a means for ensuring public welfare and this brought him into serious conflict with his employers and their elite Indian Rajah friends. A pamphlet produced by an organization of "Indian Patriots" aimed to show that Hume and his Indian National Congress were seditious. It includes a section by a local chieftain about democracy being inappropriate for India. It is interesting to note that only one Indian under Hume's command deserted him during 1857 and after the rebellion, he never punished anyone for it and followed a philosophy of forgiveness. Hume subsequently wrote that force would never help any government:
... assert its supremacy as it may at the bayonet's point, a free and civilized government must look for its stability and permanence to the enlightenment of the people and their moral and intellectual capacity to appreciate its blessings
|Hume senior, a Punch favourite|
|B H Hodgson|
Board outside the Kon-Tiki museum, Oslo
Being students of nature, naturalists clearly saw that the rules made by humans were for convenience and any delineations based on religious, economic, social, national and other boundaries were questionable - it is not surprising that they questioned so-called virtues such as "nationalism" or "patriotism". "Tell people that patriotism is bad and most of them will laugh and say: ‘Yes, bad patriotism is bad, but my patriotism is good!’" -Leo Tolstoy
It is interesting that sedition laws essentially aim to block criticism and dissent which are an essential part of large-scale rational democratic debate that would almost certainly result in conclusions that can be unfavourable to minorities, especially those in power. It has a cousin in religion called apostasy and in justice - contempt of court - another rather archaic idea that flies in the face of modern egalitarian ideals and rational thought. When rational channels are blocked - taking the irrational to an extreme - satire - reigns supreme.
Image credits: Punch and Hindi Punch - public domain courtesy of the Internet Archive. Hume, public domain, Hodgson, National Gallery - public domain image from Wikimedia Commons, Kon-Tiki board - taken by self.
- Beck, Theodore, ed (1888). Pamphlets issued by the United Indian Patriotic Association. No. 2 Showing the seditious character of the Indian national congress.. Pioneer Press, Allahabad.
- Mitter, P. (1994) Art and nationalism in colonial India, 1850-1922: occidental orientations. Cambridge University Press.
- Correspondence between His Excellency Lord Minto and certain ruling chiefs regarding measures to be taken for the suppression of sedition, and extracts from speeches during His Excellency's recent tour (1910)
- Freedman, Leonard (2009) The offensive art: political satire and its censorship around the world from Beerbohm to Borat. ABC-CLIO
- Parliament minutes - transactions of Joseph Hume
|Monty Python's affectionate satire|