No joke. Political cartooning is fraught with personal risk

In the wake of the arrest of G Bala, artists in the satire business describe how they are targeted and harassed.

No joke. Political cartooning is fraught with personal risk

The space for political cartoons is shrinking, cartoonists fear. 

Cartoonist G Bala was arrested on November 5 for a cartoon responding to the immolation of a child in front of a Tamil Nadu district office.

The cartoon depicts the police commissioner, collector and chief minister K Palaniswami standing around naked and watching the tragedy, their private parts covered with cash.

Bala received huge support on social media and from media colleagues in Chennai. He is now out on bail.

Bala says the cartoon expressed the rage he felt when a family committed suicide following harassment by a moneylender.

He is not alone in being targeted by politicians.

In 2011, when cartoonist Satish Acharya was working for Mid Day in Mumbai, he was asked by the Mumbai crime branch to delete a post they found ‘obscene and derogatory’.

Following the busting of a scam, he had depicted Sharad Pawar pole-dancing, with a red split skirt revealing Rs 12 crore written on his calf.

Media came out in support of Satish, and the police did not contact him again.

But in another incident in his hometown of Kundapur near Udupi, he was forced to remove a cartoon of Rahul Gandhi from a hoarding where he regularly displayed his work.

The cartoon contained the slogan ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ and irked municipal leaders.

“Politicians often hire lackeys to criticise, abuse and threaten artists, and this happens across political lines. The very people who made cartoons go viral during the Anna Hazare protests against the UPA government are now threatening political cartoonists online,” Satish told DH.

A few hours after he spoke to this reporter on Thursday, he took to Twitter to denounce Congress workers using his works critical of prime minister Narendra Modi as propaganda material.

"Dear @INCIndia it was unethical on your part to use my cartoons without taking permission & also erase my signature! @INCKarnataka,"

Other parties had used his works, but had retained his signature.

“It is certainly a breach of my intellectual property rights. However, I am not keen on sending a legal notice to the Congress as it is a waste of my time," he said.

Another well-known cartoonist, P Mohammad (formely Prajavani), recounted how, two years ago, he was harassed by two members of the BJP (including Chakarvarthy Sulibele, who launched the Namo Brigade ahead of the 2014 elections). They disclosed his number on a Facebook post and asked their followers to attack him.

Fortunately, the matter didn’t spin out of control, and he didn’t have to change his phone number.

Cartoonists such as B G Gujjarappa (formerly Prajavani) and V G Narendra (formerly Kannada Prabha), said politicians were more offended than ever before.

They cited the works of K Shankar Pillai, regarded as the father of Indian political cartoons, to suggest the reaction to Bala was extreme.

Shankar’s Weekly often included cartoons depicting politicians in the nude.

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