Monday, May 28, 2012

“Withdrawing cartoons from NCERT textbooks defies logic”

Activists and students hold an exhibition of cartoons, including the ones removed from an NCERT textbook recently after a controversy, at the Statue Circle in Jaipur on Saturday. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras.( The Hindu )
Sunny Sebastian  -  The Hindu

 A large number of students joined academicians, activists and Dalit leaders here on Saturday to protest against the recent decision of the Human Resource Development Ministry to withdraw cartoons from NCERT textbooks in the wake of a furore in Parliament over a cartoon. Though the expressions varied, there appeared to be a consensus against withdrawing the cartoons.
The wisdom as well as the intentions of the political parties and the stand taken by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal also came in for questioning at the discussion, “Future of textbooks,” held at the Pink City Press Club here. The programme was jointly organised by the Shikshan Ka Adhikar Manch, PUCL Rajasthan, and a group of 60 students.
The speakers felt that the issue of dropping cartoons from the textbooks should not be taken in isolation. There had been campaigns against NCERT books in the past also though this time the political parties showed an amazing level of unity to “deride' them, they noted.
“The HRD Minister should have stood up to defend the books for, he is also the patron of NCERT. Instead, he disowned the books and even ordered an enquiry,” said Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand. “They are talking about offending Dalit sensibility. Dalit sensibility is being merely used as a lever,” he pointed out. “It took some time for them to reach science and history books. Back in 2006 they had opposed the contents of Hindi books,” he said.
Rohit Dhankar of Azim Premji University, Bangalore, said the strong link the country's education system had with democracy was clearly spelt as early as in the Mudaliyar committee report on education. The present tirade against cartoons in the texts was not an isolated incident as such attempts at defeating the very purpose of modern, scientific education had been witnessed on several occasions in the past as well, he noted.
Aman Madan, Sociology Professor at Azim Premji University, said the NCERT textbooks represented weaker sections and provoked inquisitiveness and created a quest for intellectual pursuits. “Now NCERT experts are frightened as the Minister has set up an enquiry committee,” he noted.
Dalit leader and patron of the Centre for Dalit Rights P.L. Mimorth said the whole noise over Dalit sensibilities was misplaced as there was nothing objectionable in the cartoon. “In fact, I feel happy about the content of the NCERT textbooks as they give more exposure to Baba Saheb than ever before,” he said. Mr. Mimorth said pitting Dalit against non-Dalits was not a healthy thing for the country's democracy.
Rajeev Gupta of Rajasthan University suspected ulterior motives in the present controversy. “Political parties are trying to do communal politics either overtly or covertly.”
Komal Srivastava of the Bharatiya Gyan Vigyan Samiti called for a country-wide campaign against textbook intolerance.
The teachers and students who spoke at the function strongly defended the NCERT textbooks and sought safeguarding their contents. “I have been teaching this book since 2005. This is a beautiful book. The cartoon helps in teaching,” Rubina Sen, a teacher of the Pink City St. Anselm School, said about the controversial textbook.
The event was followed by a cartoon exhibition put up at the Statue Circle

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Can't our politicians laugh at themselves?

Rana Siddiqui Zaman - The Hindu
During the Non-Cooperation Movement, editorials in Indian newspapers were censored but cartoons were never touched. In fact, one of the Viceroys of British India once sent an envoy to Shankar. He saluted Shankar and said: “Our Viceroy loved your cartoon on him today. He has requested for its original copy.'
A few years ago, the Delhi Chief Minister, Ms. Sheila Dikshit went to attend the inauguration of an exhibition held by a well-known cartoonist from Kerala, Sudheer Nath. Smilingly passing by each cartoon, she occasionally burst into laughter on seeing a few of them. While she was leaving, Sudheer presented her a cartoon that had transformed her into a flying bird. As she looked at it, I asked her, “How do you feel when cartoonists make fun of you in their creations?” She said, “I smile at them, and I enjoy them. They are also often an insight into how you are taken by the people. I feel fresh.”
I asked: “Did you ever feel offended by any one of them?” She said, “Cartooning is an art, how can I feel bad for an art,” and she left with the smile never leaving her face.
Today, the situation seems different, especially in the political quarter. The most unfortunate part is that the whole Parliament got embroiled in the issueless debate and except one, none got up to say it was a useless debate. This is the gift Parliament gave us on the eve of its 60th birthday. The preventable controversy created over a cartoon by the doyen of cartooning in India, Kesava Sankara Pillai — better known as Shankar (1902-89) — in which Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar is shown as preparing the Constitution of India at snail's pace. He is whipping the snail to move fast. Nehru is also seen whipping, whether the snail or Ambedkar is left to the viewers' imagination.
India has had a strong tradition of political cartooning. Nehru, the Prime Minister with a good sense of humour, enjoyed Shankar's cartoons. In fact, he famously told him “Don't spare me, Shankar,” on May 17, 1964, 10 days before his death. He remarked so after he saw Shankar's cartoon that showed him running the final leg of a race with a torch in hand and party leaders Gulzari Lal Nanda, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, Krishna Menon and Indira Gandhi in tow.
Shankar later came out with a book on cartoons on Nehru titled “Don't spare me.” He used to invite Nehru as the chief guest for all his shows/painting competitions and Nehru would always come.
Cartoonist Sudhir Dhar, who spent his 40 years making people smile through his cartoons, says he remembers that neither Nehru nor Ambedkar who had seen this cartoon (though it made its way in the NCERT book into the early 1970s) didn't raise any objections. Prakash Ambedkar, Bhimrao's grandson, confirmed it recently while talking to cartoonist Sudhir Tailang.
During the Non-Cooperation Movement in British India, editorials in Indian newspapers were censored but cartoons were never touched. In fact, one of the Viceroys once sent an envoy to Shankar. He saluted Shankar and said, “Our Viceroy loved your cartoon on him today. He has requested for its original copy.'
Even during the Emergency, cartoonists drew countless caricatures of Mrs. Gandhi but she never reacted adversely. In fact, as cartoonist Neelabh Bannerjee recounted, “During Emergency, Abu Abraham made lots of cartoons on Mrs. Gandhi but she still made him a Rajya Sabha MP.” The only known cartoon censored during the Emergency was by R.K. Laxman in which Gerald Ford (twice President of the United States) was seen being welcomed at the airport by a group of workers ready with a net to catch him as he was known to be tripping frequently. Laxman commented later: “This is the most harmless cartoon I have ever done. The theme is simple. Gerald Ford was to come to India but cancelled his visit. During this period [Emergency] he kept on tripping and falling frequently. The Censor thought my cartoon was a dangerous comment on international affairs and therefore prevented publication.”
So, does it mean that we have forgotten to laugh? Or have politicians lost their sense of humour?
Dar feels some “hotheads in Parliament” have stopped seeing the amusing side of life. “A simple innocuous cartoon has been blown out of proportion. The most tragic part of it is that it has happened inside Parliament. It is shocking and juvenile. Kapil Sibal has surprised me by buckling under a ridiculous demand by Mayawati to drop the cartoon. And for God's sake! Nehru is not whipping Ambedkar in it, but the snail.”
Tailang feels that parliamentarians have hit upon a convenient cartoon, which they could use as an emotive issue to make their cadres pull their socks up. He views the cartoon debate as a part of vote-bank politics. “If you can lose an election because of a cartoon, then what kind of a politician are you,” he asks.
Neelabh feels politicians have become too self-conscious. “They are preoccupied with appeasement. They can't think out of the box while they ask people to do the same. A cartoon is drawn with thick and thin lines, if thick lines spoil it; thin lines are meant to bring hilarity and finesse. Cartoonists do it affectionately; they don't mean to offend anyone.”
Harinder Singh, who draws caricatures on the art world, feels that after Anna Hazare's movement against corruption, the situation has changed drastically. It has put politicians in a tight spot and the pressure on them is only mounting. It is leading to a lack of humour in them. They would have perhaps laughed it off earlier. But now they take it as adding insult to injury and as if they have been ‘more exposed' through newer cartoons.”
Professor Mushirul Hasan, who has come out with “Wit and Wisdom” — his recent book on Parsee cartoons that abounds in cartoons on the British Raj had this take: “Our politicians out of pompousness and arrogance don't take humour in their stride any more.”
Most cartoonists and Professor Hasan agree that British and American politicians are known to have been more patient with their caricatures. During Bill Clinton's infamous link-up with Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's ‘glad eye' was depicted through a cartoon in which Clinton appears in the court where the judge is a woman, and so are the lawyers and the steward who brings the Bible to him for taking the oath. He, instead, keeps his hand on the woman! Clinton took it in his stride.
Neelabh feels that people haven't forgotten to laugh. Comic books and laughter shows on television are hugely popular and among the largest selling products these days. Tailang thinks that though Indians take themselves too seriously, they have retained their sense of humour. “If we didn't have sense of humour, we would have died with the kind of governance we are facing,” he says.
I like it
Most cartoonists have experiences of political leaders liking their cartoons on them and asking for an original copy. Tailang, who is known for his political cartoons especially on the Prime Ministers for over 20 years, says he often gets calls from his “political victims” who enjoyed his works. He drew a cartoon soon after the Kandahar hijack in which he showed Jaswant Singh in a Taliban outfit.
The morning it appeared, he got a call from Mr. Singh. “He asked me if he could have the cartoon's original copy. I asked him ‘Why do you want it, I have shown you as a terrorist in it.” He answered, “…because I am looking very cute in it!” He not only used that cartoon in his book A Call to Honour but also hung it on a wall in his home where it mounts till date.” Tailang also recounts a call from Murli Manohar Joshi getting angry with him for “not drawing” on him for six months!
He insists, “The moment a politician disappears from a cartoonist's cartoons, it means he has gone down in stature. His caricature/cartoon is a certificate from a cartoon to his stature.”
The growing loss of tolerance has induced fear and disgust among the cartoonists. Tailang, for instance, views it as a systematic way of curbing freedom of expression – with a method in madness. “First it was vague, Draconian law on IT. Then Mamata Banerjee arrested a cartoonist for merely emailing a graphic. Now, plans for censoring on facebook and twitter.”
The cartoonist clan feels it is not going to stop here as now they are targeting newspapers. “They have tasted blood,” fears Tailang. Neelabh takes it as “Talibanisation of cartoonists.” I think we all cartoonists can be jailed in the near future,” he adds.
The big question is: does Kapil Sibal, who himself is a sensible poet, really feel offended by Shankar's cartoon? Or, he only tried to gain some brownie points but fell on his face?
(The writer's email is

Now, don't you laugh

Punyapriya Dasgupta - THe Hindu
The Indian politicians would do well to take themselves a little more lightly.
“Ramgarurer chhaanaa haaste taader maanaa.” Translated, this opening line of a Bengali poem, means: Ramgarur's kids are forbidden to laugh.
Ramgarur is one of the many creatures imagined by Sukumar Ray, a humourist-poet beyond compare. The father of film-maker Satyajit Ray, he believed that people wanted to laugh, needed only pretexts and he could provide them. In his lifetime (a brief 36 years) he created a Nonsense Club with his friends looking for literary fun. For posterity he left behind humorist compositions — prose and poetry — with, most famous of them all a collection of nonsense rhymes in a slim volume titled Aabol Taabol. “Ramgarurer Chhaanaa” is one of the best known from Aabol Taabol. Nobody ever complained that any of Sukumar Ray's hilarious characters had been drawn to ridicule anyone.
Yet, with humour drying up before the rampaging sands of politically opportunist ultra-sensitivity nearly a century after Sukumar Ray's death, one cannot be sure that someone will not pop up in our Parliament or in a law court, asking for a ban on Aabol Taabol.
Pay to sneeze
Almost anything is possible these days. Did Sukumar Ray have a premonition himself? The Indian polity today is showing signs of emulating “God Shiva's own country” of his imagination. In that realm “the laws and bye-laws are catastrophic”. If anyone slips and falls on the road, a guard grabs him and he is fined Rs.21 after a trial in a Qazi's court. In that country you need a ticket to sneeze before six in the evening. And so on. Who knows someone may consider it his duty to save God Shiva from continuing insult by asking for a ban on this poem.
A cartoon of Nehru and Ambedkar over the perceived snail's pace of India's Constitution-making more than 60 years ago, has been berated in the Lok Sabha as an insult to Ambedkar. Had he been alive today, Sukumar Ray might have added laughing or smiling over this cartoon to one of the many no-nos of Ramgarur's tribe. The others are listed in the following admittedly inadequate (the rhymes are missing) translation of Ray's poem:
Ramgarur's kids are forbidden to laugh./ If they hear anything funny/ they say, no laughing for us — no, no, no./ They are worried all the time —/ there, somebody may be laughing;/ they look furtively here and there/ with blinking eyes./ None of them sleeps,/ keep warning themselves/ dare you laugh, we'll thrash you./ They don't go near a forest/ or under trees/ lest the southerly breeze caresses them into smiling./ They are never at ease —/ they listen warily to the laughter/ steaming up to the edges of the clouds./ Near the hedges in the darkness of night/ glow-worms light up/ in step with laughters./ Those who cannot stop laughing/ can't they feel the pain they cause/ to Ramgarur's kids?/ Ramgarur's home/ Is packed with threats.
Even translating and publishing “Ramgarur's Kids” may be risky. Some honourable member of our Parliament may come out with a formal notice of a breach of privilege. Or someone may file a public interest petition in a law court. The cause of action? That some august personality has been brought into the same league with a Ramgarur kid —even if only by implication. There is a grim warning already from Kolkata. A Jadavpur University professor had to spend a night in a police lock-up for e-mailing a cartoon with a single word from a Satyajit Ray film.
Jittery bunch
The erudite Pranab Mukherjee joined in lambasting the 62-year-old cartoon. To the UPA's troubleshooter-in-chief the reproduction of the ancient Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon seemed to have looked like a threat to his much-battered unsteady government. Any gust of political wind makes the Congress leaders jumpy. Evidently Pranab Babu never heard of Nehru's words of encouragement to the cartoonist, Shankar. The Prime Minister's express instruction to the cartoonist was not to spare him: “Bring us down by a notch or two.” But that was six decades ago.
Today Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal is working on a decree banning all cartoons — old or new, irrespective of their age Methuselah downwards — must not find a place in any text book.
Laughter in education? No, no, no, says the worthy Minister.
The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Plantu To Auction Art work

French political cartoonist Plantu is auctioning his art work. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

French political cartoonist Plantu is auctioning his art work with proceeds to go to “Cartooning for Peace” an artist/cartoon organization that supports political cartoonist. 
 More than 150 pieces of  Plantu works that were created between 1974 and 2012 will be available at affordable prices considering Plantu talent of merging art, politics and social events that affects Europe.  
Prices of art will start at 200 euros approximately  $250 USD for smaller pieces and up to 1200 euro or about $1500 USD.Plantu has worked for Le Monde newspaper more then twenty years.  He survived and sustained a loyal readership and expresses that art can be a good medium to express a yearn for Freedom.
“When you look at Palestinian, Algerian or Chinese cartoonists, you realize that their experience through the difficulties they encounter when they try to express - more or less freely - their freedom of speech through drawings is useful to us. We, the French, western Europeans, are slightly asleep because we tell ourselves that we live in democracy but in the end we can't do everything. It's true that we live in a democracy and I'm proud of that but many things remain to be pushed around,".
James Fattori, auctioneer,
“It's important to insist on the drawings, some of them are very humorous, everybody knows Plantu's extraordinary incisiveness with the news,"
Plantu also expressed that the quality of political cartooning was a good indicator of the level of freedom of press in a country. 
Plantu art sparks the imagination to face the state of global politics through art and supports world-wide cartoonist to be free to create for freedom.

NHGOP Calls on Newspaper to Retract 'Insulting' Cartoon

The cartoon shows House Speaker William O'Brien with a Hitler-style mustache
By Marc Fortier  

The state Republican Party is condemning an editorial cartoon in today's Concord Monitor that depicts House Speaker William O'Brien with a Hitler-style mustache.
The cartoon, by Mike Marland, shows a bearded man with "Speaker O'Brien" on his hat, with a Hitler-style mustache. The man is holding a razor, with the caption "If The Mustache Fits..." over his head.
State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, set off a firestorm last week when he shouted "Sieg Heil" at O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, during discussion of the Voter ID bill. Vaillancourt later apologized on the House floor.
In a press release issued today, Republican State Committee Chairman Wayne MacDonald criticized the Monitor's cartoon, saying it is "insulting to the institution of the State House" and "should offend all New Hampshire citizens." He called on the newspaper to retract the cartoon and apologize to O'Brien.
“It wasn’t long ago that Democrat Governor John Lynch called for ‘a civil tone in debates,'" MacDonald continued. "Leaders on both sides of the aisle have rightly condemned what was a harshly inappropriate action last week. It’s unfortunate to witness the abandonment of these principles by the Concord Monitor in a way that disrespects our government and the People’s House.”
Concord Monitor Editor Felice Belman wrote a blog post today headlined "Did the mustache cartoon go too far?" that addresses the Republican Party's press release. Here's what she had to say:
"We make room for lots of different views in the Monitor Opinion pages. We’re not looking only for opinions that the newspaper’s editorial board supports – and we don’t ask that our columnists or letter-writers or our cartoonist agree with the board. In fact, in Tuesday’s edition we published an editorial (written by me) that came to a different conclusion about Vaillancourt: 'No, Vaillancourt should not have evoked Adolf Hitler in making his case on the House floor. No, O’Brien should not have squelched the comments of a Democratic lawmaker attempting to make his case on pending legislation.'

When Marland submitted the O’Brien cartoon, there was significant discussion here among the senior editors and our publisher about whether to put it into the paper. In the end, we are not Marland’s censors. He is entitled to his view of the speaker, and his views are his own. This cartoon was harsh, no doubt. But it seemed on point, given last week’s circus. In fact, several Monitor letter writers have made a similar point – in words, if not images.

The point of an editorial cartoon is to get your attention and make you think. In that, for sure, Marland has succeeded."
In response to an email asking for his response to the flap, Marland said only, "I'll be responding with my pen & ink."
The House Republican Office also sent out a press release this afternoon from state Rep. Robert Kingsbury, R-Laconia, who served in World War II.
Kingsbury called the Monitor cartoon "a deeply cutting, personal, inflammatory insult" and said he is "appalled any American would say or depict such a thing." He added that "any comparison of any American political figure to Adolf Hitler is abhorrent to all who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust ..."
Later in the afternoon, the House Republican Office sent out a second email titled, "Open Letter to Concord Monitor Editor Felice Belman," which was signed by House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, and more than three dozen other Republican state representatives.
The letter demanded that Belman denounce the cartoon and issue an apology.
"While Mr. Marland is entitled to be provocative in how he makes his point, he should be ashamed of himself and apologize to the Speaker as well. And so should you," the letter reads.

Who is scared of cartoons, anyway?

The House of Parliament is a people's highest shrine of freedom in a democracy. And today it is from this House that we hear the shrillest voices against freedom.
By S. Prasannarajan, India Today

A snail. A whip. Dr Ambedkar. Pandit Nehru. And a House on fire. It has been a textbook case of a nation surrendering its mind to the caretakers of endangered icons. A little fact mars the script: Shankar's cartoon, first published in 1949, does not blast the icon, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. It only shows the slow progression of the framing of the Constitution and the impatience of Ambedkar as well as Prime Minister Nehru. But an Ambedkar riding a snail? And a whip-lashing Nehru behind him? That is blasphemy too large to be contained by the easily insulted Parliament of India. The offending cartoon and more of such attacks on the iconography of the Republic will be banished from the textbooks of India, the minister for Historical Cleansing and Political Purification has already assured the House.
What's really amazing is the unity of the offended. Petty divisions of party affiliations have disappeared in the collective rage against the "art of insult". What was at stake was not just the sanctity of Ambedkar; almost the entire political class stood up against the distorting, lampooning art of the cartoonist. They were all Mamata Banerjee that day. This solidarity of the insulted, though, tells a larger story about the danger the historical icons of India faces from-no, not the cartoonists-their self-appointed protectors. So Ambedkar should be nothing other than a marble statue in the park. The story of Gandhi and Nehru should not be redeemed from the official narrative of the Indian National Congress. Even the life of Aurobindo should not be rescued from the comfort zone of piety. The past has to be a perfection-no shadows, no grey. It has to be an idyll where future generations will picnic with an uplifting sense of national gratitude.
It is a political ideal India can do without. Only a nation built on lies and manufactured mythologies needs the divinity of heroes who soar beyond the questioning gaze of the citizen. History is a shifting site of readings and re-readings, where dead certainties continue to be swept aside. The politics of paranoia dreads the rustle of pages that questions the received wisdom. The House of Parliament is a people's highest shrine of freedom in a democracy. And today it is from this House that we hear the shrillest voices against freedom. Listen to them and we realise how fragile is their confidence as stakeholders of one of the world's most volatile democracies. "These textbooks are poisoning young, impressionistic minds..." "These are collections of the worst cartoons of politicians. And these books are going to mould the minds to hate politicians, politics and endanger democracy..." "Are these so-called scholars part of the conspiracy to defame the political class in this country?" I wish these were comments generated by some samizdat publications in Pyongyang or Havana.
These stray sentences are unlikely to save politics from the dark art of cartoonists. True, politics is not a bad word, even if we are paying the heaviest price for bad politics. Also true, every politician is not a venal creature. Politics gets calcified when its worst professionals close their minds and begin to take copyright over the mind of others. Such politicians want a sanitised history-and a textbook that mirrors it. Better they watch out. Someone out there, a student denied of his cartoons in the textbook most probably, is watching the live telecast on the Lok Sabha Television. Sadly those cartoons are hardly entertaining.