Do Indians understand Cartoons ? On Indian Republic Day

It’s easier to say: I understand cartoons without getting offended.

Yes, these are some thoughts which came to my mind on the eve of India’s 66th Republic Day, which we celebrated only yesterday. The thoughts pertained to Cartoons, and having the sensibility to understand the sarcasm and humor within. The chain of thoughts began with a Question: Do we understand Cartoons? Or more pointedly — Do Indians understand Cartoons or Political cartoons or religious cartoons?

On the morning of 7 January 2015, at about 11:30 local time, two masked gunmen armed with assault rifles and other weapons forced their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. They fired up to 50 shots, killing eleven people and injuring eleven others during their attack. An extremely sad incident. Two people who thought themselves to be acting on behalf of God, didn’t think twice killing the same creatures the God created. The God which they themselves adhered to. God is God, whatever way one wants to see him/her.

Every logical person saw the gruesome act as the killers’ lack of ability to appreciate satire and humor. Or they saw the act as the killers’ lack of ability to digest a thought contrary to killers’ belief system. Even when those particular cartoons offended someone, that doesn’t mean one can kill fellow human being.

Now lets come to another cartoon which offended a section of people in India and abroad (those who are people of Indian Origin).

When India’s Mars Orbiter reached Mars’s orbit a couple of months ago, NYT published a cartoon, wherein an Indian with loin and turban and a cow, is shown knocking on the door of an elite club of Western Academics or scientists. Many Indians on Twitter termed the cartoon as racist. Here’s the cartoon.

indian villager mars orbitor cartoon

The above cartoon offended some Indians to such an extent that NYT has to publish apology and explain to them that the cartoon was only using stereotypes (eg. India the country of snake Charmers) to bring some laughter. If India is proud of its culture and people, the cartoon doesn’t seem too offending. Aren’t we a country of farmers with animals? Don’t snake charmers still exist in India?

To conclude my thoughts on: Do Indians understand cartoons? I want to bring to your notice another cartoon which became the talk of the Social networks, metros a year or two ago. Here’s the cartoon:

offending ambedkar cartoon


The above Cartoon was in a textbook published by the NCERT. Few Dalit Thinkers found it anti-dalit. And this ensued a sense of outrage among a section of Indians, to the extent that the cartoon has to be removed from the textbook. Guess who came in support of the cartoon (to retain it in the textbook), the same Twitter and Facebook using Indians, who lately saw the NYT Mars Mission Cartoon as ‘Racist’.

Thus, Do Indians or for that matter anyone really understands cartoons? Or does our response, depends on the side of the debate we find ourselves on? Please do think over the question…

PS: Unknowingly, these musings came on the day Great Cartoonist R. K. Laxman left us. A sad day for every cartoon lover. R. K. Laxman, May You Rest in Peace.