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Thoughts on the Arrest of Indian Cartoonist G. Bala

Another cartoonist arrested, this time in India. From The Hindu:

'Last week, the Tamil Nadu police arrested the cartoonist G. Bala. His offence was creating and posting a cartoon that was an “obscene” portrayal of the Chief Minister and other officials. Bala’s cartoon showed the chief minister, the collector and the police chief standing naked except for the proverbial ‘fig leaves’ comprising wads of cash while a child lay burning in front of them.'

The cartoon was in response to a man and wife setting themselves and their two children on fire, allegedly due to harassment by a money-lender and is a critique of the failure government officials to combat usury, despite widespread condemnation from political parties.

We obviously condemn the arrest of yet another cartoonist (he has been released on bail), in what is a pattern of harassment of journalists in that part of India. However, it is also interesting to see how this arrest reveals how uncomfortable many Indian journalists are with hard-hitting cartoons.

The Hindu has a piece that condemns arrest of the cartoonist, but goes on to say how newspaper editors provide a necessary filter for cartoons and ‘editorial judgement’. While we can agree that a good editor can have value, we love the fact that social media has given cartoonists the ability to share cartoons that would never see any ink because of conservative editors. 

‘A cartoon should make you smile and not cringe.’ observes colleague Indian cartoonist Mathi, in what we at Cartoon Movement feel must be one of the most senseless statements ever to be made by a cartoonist. Some of the very best cartoons ever made are ones that make you cringe. They hurt to look at, precisely because they expose a painful injustice and, in doing so, transfer feelings of guilt and shame to the viewer. They are the best cartoons, because they are most likely to inspire action to remedy that particular injustice.

While it is difficult to gauge the impact of a local cartoon from afar, this one seems to be hard-hitting but hardly ‘obscene’. Given its social media engagement it also struck home with many people. So, in our opinion, a cartoon that certainly doesn’t warrant an arrest, but also one that might have very well deserved to see print, despite what the editors at The Hindu think.

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