Cartoonist Bala had uploaded the cartoon, that the police describe as “obscene”, to his Facebook page a day after labourer Isaki Muthu, 32, doused himself and his family in kerosene and set them on fire in the campus of the collector’s office in Tirunelveli, 630 km from state capital Chennai. His wife and two daughters died within hours; Isaki Muthu a few days later due to burn injuries.
Their family had alleged that the man, who had hoped to start a small business, had approached the authorities against the loan shark who had lent him money at a very high interest rate and killed himself in disappointment.
Chief Minister Palaniswami had responded to the suicide with appeals to people to come forward with complaints against loan sharks.
Usury, the practice of lending money at high interest rates, has been illegal in Tamil Nadu but enforcement is patchy. The loan shark who was alleged to have lent Rs 1.4 lakh to Isaki Muthu was arrested only after the family’s suicide.
Sunday’s arrest was made on a complaint by Tirunelveli collector Sandeep Nanduri, who sought action against Bala for the “derogatory, demeaning and malicious cartoon”.
“In the cartoon,” his complaint said, “he (Bala) depicts the burning body of a baby which is watched by 3 persons without clothes” and who are identified as Nellai police commissioner, Nellai Collector and Chief Minister.
“The three persons are depicted as naked and carrying currency notes which are used to cover their private parts. This highly demeaning cartoon shows the government officers in poor light and also casts aspersions about their integrity… the Chief Minister in a highly derogatory and belittling way,” the Tirunelveli district chief said.
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader Anbumani Ramadoss criticised the arrest, calling for the cartoonist’s immediate release.