Sir — Going by the ruckus surrounding cartoons these days — by the angry and frequently violent reactions of elected lawmakers against any kind of caricature of prominent personalities — it seems ‘laughter’ itself has become a laughing matter in contemporary India. This indeed is puzzling. The emerging trend of automatically equating lampooning with character assassination, of treating every expression of joviality targeting persons deputed by people to run the republic as being fundamentally slanderous and libellous, cannot but result in undermining the nation’s democratic charter.
Those who now readily question the public right to parody celebrities or icons are also guilty of forgetting that India has a long tradition of producing social and political commentaries in the form of hilarious visuals and words. The lack of a sense of humour in persons at the helm of power today is so profound that we may very soon lapse into a state of amnesia in relation to the deeply admired and dearly loved cartoonists, such as Gaganendranath Tagore, R.K. Laxman, K. Shankar Pillai (better known as Shankar), Attupurathu Mathew Abraham (known popularly as Abu Abraham), O.V. Vijayan, Mario de Miranda (better known as Mario). It is on behalf of the ‘little men’, from whose perspectives the celebrated cartoonists dared to make light heavy-going matters, that we condemn the current persecution by Indian politicians and their lathi-wielding goons of those committed to the cause of irony, irreverence and critical humour in our public life.
Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Partha Chatterjee, Rosinka Chaudhuri, Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Jyotsna Jalan, Manas Ray, Lakshmi Subramanian and 9 others,
Members of faculty of the
Centre for Studies in Social
Sir — Cartoons are an indicator of people’s tolerance levels (“Regress in India”, May 13). If they fail to generate mirth, their purpose is defeated. Today, cartoons have become the source of disputes. Once leaders come to power, they begin seeing conspiracy everywhere, and feel that their safety is threatened.
A cartoon drawn in 1949 was reproduced in a NCERT textbook. It depicted Jawaharlal Nehru whipping B.R. Ambedkar who is seen riding a snail, signifying the slow progress in the framing of the Indian Constitution. The cartoon has offended those who consider Ambedkar to be their idol. However, neither Nehru nor Ambedkar objected to the cartoon.The development only goes to show that our political culture is sliding rapidly. We seem to be losing our sense of humour. Political one-upmanship and the culture of hero-worship are taking a toll on the country. Ambedkar’s followers need not feel offended. He performed a herculean task and remains immortalized in the hearts of India’s citizens. There is no need for Ambedkar’s followers to resort to violence to defend their hero’s dignity. Ambedkar himself was a great advocate of reason and liberalism. Indian citizens will have to raise their level of tolerance.
Sir — The row in Parliament over a six-decade-old cartoon featuring B.R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru reveals the closed mindset of India’s political leaders. The commotion over the cartoon has not been triggered by our leaders’ respect for Ambedkar. The protesters are only interested in seeking political mileage. Ambedkar, who is highly respected as a great statesman, does not need such gimmicks to certify his immense contribution to the nation. It is a pity that harmless cartoons are being targeted for harvesting political dividends. Several leaders have developed an allergy for criticism. They have forgotten that anybody occupying public office in a democracy should be prepared to face criticism.
Green goes grey
Sir — The journey to the airport via V.I.P. Road was once pleasant on account of the greenery on both sides of the road. Most of the trees have now been cut as they stood in front of showrooms and bill boards. Whatever is left will now be destroyed by the flyover project, making the stretch resemble a concrete jungle.