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World acclaim for political cartoonist

The recognition marks a landmark year for the comic. ‘Sanitary Panels’ turns 10 in June. Her first comic strip, published in 2014, was in response to people facing arrests for “anti-Modi” Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages.
Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 23:49 IST
Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 23:49 IST

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Bengaluru-based Rachita Taneja has won this year’s Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award along with Hong Kong’s Zunzi. The honour is in recognition of ‘Sanitary Panels’, a tongue-in-cheek webcomic that comments on politics and the hypocrisy of society.

The award was announced on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. India ranked 159 out of 180 countries on this year’s Press Freedom Index.

“As a political cartoonist, I feel my responsibility is to call out hypocrisy and double standards. Sometimes, I go with my gut feeling,” the 32-year-old tells Metrolife, when asked about her creative process. “People often comment that my cartoons ‘Just speak my mind’. It’s the best compliment for a political cartoonist,” she adds.

The recognition marks a landmark year for the comic. ‘Sanitary Panels’ turns 10 in June. Her first comic strip, published in 2014, was in response to people facing arrests for “anti-Modi” Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages. Not much of an artist back then, Rachita poured her feelings into a stick figure cartoon-cum-commentary. She felt it would be apt to call out a social media crackdown with a social media post, and uploaded the cartoon on Facebook.

Likes and shares followed and Rachita then began taking digs at current affairs, misogyny, homophobia and majoritarianism. Feminism and social justice were recurring themes. Stick figures and satire became her mainstays. She was working as a digital campaigner for non-profits and would make comics when something called out to her. Now she is a full-time political cartoonist, publishing her works in news media even. Her comics have a following of 1.3 lakh on Instagram and 46,000 on X.

Her cartoons often go viral. Sometimes she shares screenshots of interesting comments, which end up gaining traction too. Some cartoons that went viral were based on former health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan’s remark ‘Don’t wear a condom, wear values to fight AIDS’, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s statement on growing intolerance in India, overnight demonetisation, and insensitive comments on marital rape.

Lately, she has been using the comic to respond to the Lok Sabha elections — from the Election Commission of India’s silence on the alleged violation of poll code to the truth about NOTA (None of the above).

Rachita feels independent political cartoonists have a critical role to play now more than ever. “Mainstream media has lost its morality and sense of duty,” she says. But being an online commentator comes with trolling and threats, which Rachita has faced many times. Then in 2020, a series of illustrations criticising the Supreme Court landed her in legal trouble.

Does she self-censor her cartoons? Rachita says there is no such thing like self-censorship. “Threatening by violence or legal action is censorship,” she reasons.

Look up @sanitarypanels on Instagram and X.

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Published 30 May 2024, 23:49 IST

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