Ranjona Banerji: Cartoons as weapons of mass destruction!

11 Jun,2012

Ranjona Banerji

By Ranjona Banerji


All efforts are now being made to wipe out India’s most dangerous weapon of mass destruction: the political cartoon. This awful instrument of power, if it falls into the wrong hands (ie, cartoonists), can end up doing the most terrible damage to reputations, thin skin and “sentiments”.


In recent times cartoons have caused incalculable damage. But strangely – and this is their enormous reach – the cartoons have emerged from the past where they had been lurking. It is not enough to imagine that because today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s sev puri wrapping, the power of the cartoon is diminished. It has an insidious way of reappearing in other forms – like those other lethal objects, books. And even worse, textbooks.


Young minds, while they can easily absorb news of war and cruelty and indeed thrive on the vulgarity which passes for entertainment in India, would be irreparably tainted if faced with a political cartoon. And yet, by stealth for what else could it be, these cartoons have managed to inveigle themselves into textbooks.


It started however with that other source of free expression, the Internet. Someone committed the most heinous act of forwarding a cartoon making fun of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. But in spite of the strict action taken against the transgressor, the cartoon has only got bolder.


Soon after a cartoon from 1949 was discovered being satirical about the delays in putting the Constitution together. Not only did it show the Constituent Assembly as a snail but it showed Dr BR Ambedkar sitting on the snail, with a whip in hand and then Jawaharlal Nehru whipping the snail. This is wrong on so many levels and particularly to snails. What have these fat sluggish creatures done to deserve whips? They have no feet and they cannot move any faster. There are no records about the action taken against the cartoon in 1949 by the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals but one can only hope that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will soon be holding a mass agitation at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi to increase awareness about this subjugation of snails. Good luck with getting hundreds of naked girls to agree to have snails crawling all over their bodies – a normal PETA method of agitprop. But protests there have been and there must be.


And now we have a cartoon from 1968 implying that students in Tamil Nadu knew neither Hindi nor English. Now what could be more insulting to the education system of the past? Implying that students had been taught nothing is most unfair. How can the education system from 1968 possibly stand up for itself? It is therefore only right that the protests should happen in 2012.


The other way of course is to put the cartoon on the endangered species list and wait for the World Wildlife Fund to step in…


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