‘Freedom curbed by unseen hand’

‘Freedom curbed by unseen hand’

Satish Acharya says artists like him, in the political commentary business, are under extreme pressure to toe the establishment line

Mail Today rejected this cartoon by Satish Acharya.

A cartoon dropped from a publication has stirred up an intense debate about politics and creative freedom.

Cartoonist Satish Acharya recently put up a Facebook post alleging political interference in news organisations. His last cartoon, commenting on growing Chinese influence in the Maldives, was pulled off since the paper deemed it exaggerated.

The Kundapura-based artiste withdrew his cartoon column in Mail Today, a daily tabloid published in Delhi by the India Today group, saying he was facing censorship.

Satish has been a professional cartoonist for 15 years and a freelancer for 10 years. He has worked for many well-known publications.

“Getting a break in Mid Day was a turning point; I was struggling to get a cartoon column for a long time till then,” he says.

He is upset some people mistake political cartoons, which offer an opinion, for illustrations and caricatures. “Political cartoons are my specialisation,” he says.

Even in today’s digital age, cartoons represent a perspective that may vary from a newspaper’s, Satish says.

“People identify one paper with a certain ideology or slant. Some editors can also take a specific stand. Cartoonists are different — they don’t follow the stand of the paper or the opinion of the editor. Now there is a talk about many media houses being biased. So people don’t trust the paper entirely and see cartoons as an independent voice,” he says.

Here is his take.

Anything off limit?

In India, we cartoonists draw our own ‘Lakshman Rekha’. We have to deal with issues sensitively and responsibly; especially those concerning religion and caste. We don’t want our cartoons to create riots.
Because of social media, cartoons spread faster. Sometimes people share a cartoon after modifying it, adding their own dialogues. This can be dangerous.


Cartoonists have to look at all areas, not just politics. Headlines these days are also about Bollywood heroes, cricketers and politicians. Earlier it was just politicians. I am interested in all these areas. If something happens in cricket, I try to connect it with some political event or cinema. Cartoons are critical of the government but we don’t restrict ourselves to a party or government.

Points to note?

Ideas are what set cartoons apart. Make cartoons visually effective. Otherwise they become illustrations or jokes.

Social media

I see social media as an advantage. When I relocated from Mumbai to my hometown in Kundapura in 2011, I had very few clients and it was tough. Social media helped me reach wider audiences. However, cartoons on social media also attract cyber bullies.

What has changed now?

There have always been attacks on media freedom but not at this level. Even before 2014, people who would get offended by cartoons and comment on social media. But now it has become organised. People pick up cartoons critical of the government and target cartoonists. They continuously harass and abuse you.