Censorship exists because Indians believe denial is better than cure.
Cartoonist Satish Acharya quit.
Why? Because some things, or some people, are mightier than the pen.
Mail Today, the English daily, for which Satish has been drawing cartoons for a while said that they rather go with a photo than print his cartoon. Satish’s ‘crime’ being that he chose to show China’s talons spreading across South Asia.
We Indians believe in the age-old adage: Denial is better than cure.
Most of us will wake up this 15 August, with our paper flags and stoic patriotism, to sing of the greatness of this country. We will not remember the people who got lynched or our innocuous WhatsApp forwards that killed innocents, the countless rapes, or the rise of hate.
That is why cartoonists exist.
To draw our follies, to illustrate what we chose to ignore, the fine lines, if you will.
I curated ThePrint’s daily publication of cartoons called Last Laughs. Cartoons, sometimes, tell news better than the news. We almost always carried a Satish cartoon. His work is all-encompassing and his scathing pen leaves no one and no issue.
Satish’s cartoons have been shared by the BJP and the Congress alike. Rahul Gandhi shares them, as does Amit Shah. What else have you heard of them sharing (apart from the hope of 2019)?
He drew cartoons on the massive IKEA opening in Hyderabad, the Kiki challenge as the mahagatbandhan would perform it, the Rahul-Modi hug, the Maharashtra farmers’ protest and on gau rakshaks.
His range has been achieved by few cartoonists today.
The censorship loometh
In June, America outraged over Pittsburgh Post-Gazette firing their editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers, where he had worked for 25 years.
The editors had rejected six of Rogers’ cartoons which were critical of Donald Trump and his policies.
One was this:
India has never been far behind when it came to censorship. An FIR was filed against cartoonist Swathi Vadlamudi April this year because of a cartoon she had drawn in the aftermath of the Unnao and Kathua rape cases.
As usual, people missed the point and outraged over the wrong reason.
In 2012, the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal sent a Jadavpur University professor to jail because he forwarded a cartoon in an email.
Must have tickled the wrong bone.
What is often overlooked is that collective memory remembers visuals better than events. In the darkest hours of democracy, dissent and humour prevail. It serves as a catharsis.
Think of the Emergency Indira Gandhi imposed. Most of us who were not alive at the time remember it through R.K. Laxman’s cartoons that we grew up seeing.
Satish Acharya isn’t the first cartoonist to be censored. He won’t be the last.
But dissent survives in the oddest of ways. Remember the ‘rib recordings’ that were all the rage in Soviet Russia? Grooves from Presley, Beatles were inscribed onto real x-ray plates and sold on the black market.
Most cartoonists in India may have taken note of Satish’s exit by now. Their lines are already forming in their heads. What they draw this week can be more powerful than the lines that censors draw for them.
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