Cartoons have always been a source of wonder & introspection for me. Cartoons have a wider role than being just a source of comic relief. There are instances where they have become forums for people to express their thoughts. I for one have always enjoyed the cartoons of RK Laxman. His satire on Indian polity and society never fails to amaze me, in particular the Common Man.
For over a century and a half, this cartoon has captured the aspirations, thoughts and opinions of the people, be it during the Indira Gandhi emergency period of 1975 or the Corruption tainted Congress Govt of the 21st century.
But then all is not peaceful when talks about morality and boundaries of cartoons. There are instances when a certain way of portrayal of events, people, religion and nationalism have led to some nasty scenes.
Take these cartoons for instance by well known cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.
Though it very much catches the sentiment of India, it was widely criticised for having deformed and perverted the national emblem. In the second cartoon, corruption is showcased as a wolf and Mother India is about to be raped by it, who in turn is held down by a politician and a bureaucrat. Now, in the world of expression where do we draw the line? Though interpretations may be quite subjective, nonetheless I feel that when we are living in this era of globalisation, the concept of ‘Cultural Shock’ should not freeze us and make us mute to the changes happening around us. Sadly, Aseem was jailed by Mumbai Police for posting such a cartoon that transgressed the norms of ‘Society’. Interestingly, in an independent survey, it was seen that only an estimated 13% people had opposition to the cartoons depicted above. Unnecessary politicisation was the reason behind the cartoonist facing a jail term. Mature politics, I think, instead of feeling threatened by cartoons and crying its lungs out over ‘Seditious Content’, would do better if it were to actually understand the sentiments of the nation and her people. Cartoons are a medium towards that objective. One may disagree with a cartoon but outright suppression will only stifle creativity.
Another case in point is the one below.
The drafting of the constitution of our country was and still is an important moment for India. In this picture, we see Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru lashing out at B.R. Ambedkar to finish up the constitution of India hurriedly. This cartoon which wittily depicts the plight of the Indian Nation was politicised as an insult to minority groups. There were fights between publishing houses and political parties over the arena of the ‘Right to express’. Agreed, right to expression carries with it the responsibility of addressing core issues with care and insight but then again must the response be so hard hitting and suppressive that anything out of the box will be choked and let to wither away? This is a question we need to ask ourselves as citizens and members of the nation of India.
Funnily, even anime has not been left out. Take the case of Shin Chan, the cute little protagonist of Crayon Shinchan in India. Amazingly, accordingly to a 2007, Times of India Report, Shinchan had a baseline number of 32 Lakh plus viewers. Despite this, ShinChan’s statements such as ‘Bachche Churaane Waali Moti Budiya’ addressed to her mother was met with opposite reactions. Though it evoked laughter on one hand, on the other, it made parents so concerned that they requested the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to ban it completely for fear of demoralising values. After sometime, the ban was lifted. Sadly, insufficient value education as well as lack of an open mind in children enforced by parental concerns are plausible reasons for this move. There needs to be an openness to discuss issues relating to life such as sexuality, relationships, perspectives, abuses and so on. Only by moving from a ‘Just keep quiet’ moment, to a ‘Yes, let’s talk’ scenario can kids acquire a holistic and wholesome childhood.
Ultimately, as British PM Winston Churchill once said, “Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War”, it’s more beneficial if active discussion follows creative channels that may not adhere to the norms of ‘Society’.