So much for Comic Relief

[Originally Published on this blog on July 3, 2012 and subsequently lost to the Internet Gods]

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I cannot hold back anymore, I feel I MUST speak up on this national hullabaloo over the cartoons in the Political Science textbooks.

I know us Indians have no sense of humour, and I know that we are overly-sensitive to any cultural or regional jibe. Yet, over the years, I have come to believe that we are growing up, looking at the brighter side, and taking any such little jokes in our stride.

Which is why it is SO disappointing to see our politicians squabble and point fingers over cartoons published in our school textbooks.

I remember the first time I opened the Class X Political Science NCERT. I was fascinated, and super excited to see all the cartoons it was full of. Seniors and batchmates would flip through the book and say, ‘Iss saal maza aayega’

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And maza aaya! Whether it was the democracy cartoons in the Belgium chapter, or the funny Uncle Sam one – all of them provided an interesting glimpse into the chapter. Whenever I got bored of the chapter, I would just flip through the book, looking at the cartoons, laughing and feeling rested enough to continue. At this stage, cartoons were always a source of entertainment, a respite from all the text.

However, it was only when I came to Class XI that the importance of the cartoons became apparent. Each cartoon became a trove of hidden meanings and jokes, and our class would spend hours arguing, counter-arguing and deliberating on the meaning of each. Yes, they were undoubtedly the scariest part of Pental ma’ams papers, but they were SO MUCH FUN!

I still remember the one cartoon she gave in a Monday Test which highlighted sexism, and the whole class had a ball making up examples and scenarios. I don’t seem to recall there being instances of sexism following the test!

Then came Class XII and the most brilliant part of Indian politics. The post-independence era. Full to the brim with cartoons and the hateful ‘boxes’, this book was an absolute delight to read. Once again, the cartoons became talking points, and provided several opportunities for the class to relax, and have some fun with what can sometimes become a tedious subject. But most importantly, these cartoons served as important points for retaining data.untitled2-300x214 2
In a situation where Humanities students have to learn up a minimum of 6 books for their Boards, these cartoons provided the visual stimulus necessary to help us recall points! We often found ourselves gasping at the audacity of the cartoon-makers, yes, particularly in the post- emergency period, but all the same, it made us appreciate the tolerance of our government better. We saw democracy in action, and it was very heartening.

Which is why it makes me so sad to watch the current drama of the ‘politically sensitive’ nature of cartoons emerge. Today, The Hindu carries the text of the dissent note sent by M.S.S. Padian to the NCERT Committee on Textbooks, and it made me truly, very unhappy to see some of my favourite cartoons being called up for deletion.

Also, I find the complaint about depicting politicians as animals ABSURD. Its like if I started to complain that I do not wish to be depicted as a balding man by R K Laxman, because I am not a man, nor am I old and that he disrespects me by depicting me in this ‘hurtful’ manner.
A cartoon is a creative and humorous expression of opinion. To place these restrictions on a cartoon-maker is to curtail his freedom of expression. Why do I even have to say this?!

untitled3-300x230 2And then there’s the issue of Unni and Munni. I must confess, I love those two. They’re adorable. And most importantly, they ask such piercing and thoughtful questions. I have actually been baffled by some of their questions, and many an exciting class session has occurred due to the same. They don’t seek to incite us with these questions. They want us to be thoughtful and perceptive. They want us to ask questions, to peruse the past and future of the concept/ situation we are studying about. Censoring their questions takes away the whole purpose behind their existence.

I feel that there is no need to change the cartoons. It is despicable to accuse young minds of being incited or prejudiced by these cartoons.

I am not prejudiced against Tamilians because of a cartoon about the Dravidian movement of the 60’s (incidentally my favourite cartoon of them all). The textbook talks highly of this movement, and every political science student sees it to be a bold, and inspiring movement for democracy. The cartoon does VERY little to change that, it only just makes us laugh.Comic1-300x243 2

Which is, for the last time, the whole point of a cartoon.

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