'Don’t spare me'

As we celebrate the 75 years of independence, we cartoonists aren’t begging for freedom, but just let us do our job as cartoonists, writes Satish Acharya
Last Updated 14 August 2022, 19:15 IST

When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru uttered these words to cartoonist Shankar Pillai, he was not giving reassurance about the freedom to draw cartoons. Because this freedom was already allotted to cartoonists by India’s constitution. Nehru was rather reminding Shankar he’s accountable for governance.

As a school going kid I used to be jealous of cartoonist’s freedom to make fun of others in pocket cartoons which appeared in Kannada publications. Not exactly political personalities, but rather people like doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, govt employees and faceless politicians. It was such a privilege!

As I grew up I was attracted to the political cartoons of the legendary RK Laxman and illustrations of another legendary cartoonist Mario Miranda. I started copying their works, which used to appear in The Illustrated Weekly magazine. RK Laxman was rather easy to copy as his style was semi-realistic. But Mario was always a challenge to copy. Mario used to adorn his illustrations with a huge amount of details. In spite of that, I found Mario’s characters charming. I would copy them for hours and hours.

Gradually I ended up drawing in my own style. I was yet to understand political cartoons and yet to think about cartoonists’ freedom to ridicule/criticise politicians and other celebrities. During the same time, I was also introduced to many other political cartoonists. They were lampooning Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee, VP Singh, Advani, Chandrashekar etc. It never occurred to me that I have to think about their freedom to ridicule these powerful politicians.

Freedom came naturally to us.

And it was natural for us to think that our constitution, our democratic institutions and our press would fight to safeguard our freedom. So cartooning remained a fun job even as a freelancer contributing to local Kannada magazines and a few English magazines.

Even in my wildest dreams, I didn’t think that the fun job I’m doing would be considered as a brave act! Now when I criticise the govt or question a powerful leader or ridicule a political party in my cartoons many readers ask me to take care. Another set of readers start praising my bravery!

Really? Do cartoonists have to get a bravery award for doing their job of questioning the government? This extreme reaction of readers reflects the changing matrix of freedom in the press. Many senior editors who are expected to safeguard this freedom as their duty, aren’t prepared to unsettle their own career. They would rather sacrifice a cartoon column and slaughter the cartoonist’s job.

For the owners of many publications the challenge of choosing between press freedom and a big chunk of the government’s advertisement pie is rather easy. They need money to show profit numbers. History will remember all those names who stood for the freedom of cartoonists and journalists and stood by them like a solid rock in spite of revenue losses, threats and in some cases even the danger of

The silver line in this gloomy phase is how many cartoonists survived and continued to do their job even without the support of editors, and senior journalists. A new wave of journalism emerged during this churning, where readers stood up and volunteered to support cartoonists and journalists who dared to air their free voices. These readers not only supported cartoonists financially but also took initiative to take cartoons to a wider audience through different social media platforms.
This is the biggest award for the resilience shown by cartoonists.

As we celebrate the 75 years of independence, we cartoonists aren’t begging for freedom, but just let us do our job as cartoonists. Our constitution has already given us enough freedom to question the government, ridicule the leaders and ‘NOT TO SPARE ANYONE’!

(The author is a renowned cartoonist based in Kundapura.)

(Published 14 August 2022, 19:00 IST)

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