fbpx
Saturday, January 23, 2021

No humour please, we are Indians!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

MADHUSREE CHATTERJEE on the ruckus caused by an old Ambedkar-Nehru cartoonIn 1923, iconic Bengali humorist Sukumar Ray described a curious race of beings “who were scared to laugh”. With the government forced to apologise for a 1949 cartoon on Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar after parliamentarians of all hues raised a massive ruckus, are Indians becoming that humourless race?
The 63-year-old cartoon by the eminent Shankar – considered the father of Indian political cartoonists who ran the highly regarded Shankar’s Weekly till it closed down during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime of 1975-77 – shows first prime minister Nehru with a whip in his hand chasing Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, who is on a snail. The uproar in parliament, that began with protests by pro-Dalit parties, led to Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal removing the sketch from NCERT textbooks and an attack on the offices of NCERT advisor Suhas Palshikar even though he had quit.
The controversy, posing the bigger question of removing political cartoons from textbooks entirely points to a tiptoeing autocracy, growing stupidity and joylessness in the Indian polity, say a cross section of scholars, intellectuals and society watchers.
Former politician and schoolteacher M.L. Chattopadhyay says the controversy is reminiscent of Ray’s limerick “Ram Garurer Chana” – children of the bird Ram Garuda who are not allowed to laugh… and were always scared that someone was laughing.
Indians are probably losing the ability to laugh because of a competitive and combative society, adds historian and writer Mushirul Hasan.
“We have lost the inclination to laugh at the self. Unless you can laugh at yourself, you cannot appreciate humour and wit,” Hasan, the author of the “Awadh Punch” and “Wit & Wisdom: Pickings from the Parsee Punch”, told IANS.
Laughter gives one confidence during “road rages when someone is either angry with you or excluding you because of your gender or for fact that you are a Dalit in a combative society…”, Hasan said.
Raking up a controversy over cartoons that were drawn over six decades ago is stupidity, says Jatin Varma, founder and host of Comic.Con, the country’s largest annual comic assembly.
“It is most stupid to condemn them now when they (Shankar, Ambedkar, Nehru) did not rake up the issue when they were alive. The sad part is that the whole process of putting together an NCERT text goes through various layers of bureaucratic screening,” Varma told IANS.
Progressive intellectual and artist Ram Rahman said he did not buy the argument that these cartoons are not appropriate for students.
“In this day and age, when more youngsters have access to the digital media, to try and censor material like cartoons which have appeared in the mass media is ridiculous,” Rahman told IANS.
The progressive artist and arts activist said proscribing cartoons which are a part of history and have been seen by millions is no different from destroying the Babri Masjid.
“The motivations are exactly the same. It is an attempt to rewrite history and also culture and tantamounts to an attack on the freedom of the press. This is like bringing in the censorship of the emergency through the back door… It is reminiscent of the controversy surrounding M.F. Husain’s art.”
“After cartoons, what next?” he asked.
In a statement from the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat), intellectuals like Romila Thapar, Zoya Hasan, Prabhat Patnaik, Sudhanva Deshpande and M.K Raina said “appropriate procedures have to be followed such as the setting up of a committee of academics to look into each case”.
“Summary judgments of the ministers concerned under political pressures of various kinds do not determine the content of our academic syllabi,” they said.
The aggressive stand over the controversy was antithetical to the democratic values cherished by Ambedkar.
The Foundation of Media Professionals, which condemned the move as “retrograde step for democracy and does not augur well for what may come”, believes that irreverence should not be equated with disrespect.
“Irreverence is not disrespect and cartoons are an important part of social-political commentary. They are not threats to democracy,” the foundation said in a statement.
For the common person, protest is the only tool against the government whip on political cartoons.
The road ahead is still uncharted on this one.

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Podcasts

Ep8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s life

0
To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

0
  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic...

Ep 6: The Indian LGBTQ+ community in 2020

0
  It’s been two years since the world’s largest democracy repealed the draconian Section 377 which used to allow discrimination against homosexual people. Only this...

Latest News

lilly singh

WATCH: Lilly Singh as Sima Taparia in “Indian Matchbreaking”

0
  Whether we liked it or not, most of us gave into the Sima Taparia craze during lockdown. Within days, we'd all binged on Netflix's...
karl rock

From New Zealand to New Delhi: Meet YouTube’s Karl Rock

0
  When Karl Rock picks up the phone (with a cheerful ‘Namaste!’ no less), his New Zealand accent is apparent. That is, until he bursts...
Buddhist Kung Fu nuns kicking hard at centuries-old taboos

India’s Buddhist Kung Fu nuns

0
  They are the Buddhist Kung Fu nuns of Drukpa lineage, known globally for trekking across the Himalayas to pick up trash, paddling through mountain...
jhansi strawberries

Strawberries to write a new chapter of development in Jhansi

0
  Jhansi which is well-known as the land of valour is all set to write a new chapter and strawberry cultivation would play a pivotal...

WATCH: Aussies try to guess Indian slang

0
  Many new migrants have had to quickly learn the local lingo upon arriving in Australia, picking up the ie's and the o's as part...