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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Why do I satire?

The Instruction of Dua-Kheti is a piece of ancient Egyptian literature written over 1,000 years before Christ. In it, the profession of scribes is praised against satirical descriptions of manual labour. Thus, one of the earliest pieces of evidence of satire punches down at the lower classes. Millennia later, Bhogtoram Mawroh punches up, and he tells us why.

By Bhogtoram Mawroh

Stand-up comedians have been bearing the brunt of the backlash for their satirical take on Indian society. One of them, Munawar Faruqui, announced he is quitting comedy after his shows were cancelled and he spent a month in jail for his jokes. Two cartoons I follow, MANJULtoons and Sanitary Panels, have also come under pressure. The contract of Manjul, the cartoonist behind MANJULtoons, was terminated by Network18 after Twitter informed him about a “request” it had received from “Indian law enforcement” on his handle, which allegedly violated the “law(s) of India”. Similarly, India’s Attorney General AK Venugopal permitted a law student to initiate contempt of court proceedings against artist Rachna Taneja, the founder of Sanitary Panels, for two allegedly incendiary cartoons.

It would appear thus that the space for satire, especially if it is related to the current political dispensation or a certain ideology, has been shrinking. For me, who also engages in satire through my comic U Jler Comics, it is a constant reminder of the dangers of practising this art. In fact, the first-ever satirical cartoon I drew was on the demonetisation of 2016, which, along with others, was picked up by SabrangIndia, an online magazine run by Teesta Setalvad. I was a little bit concerned that this might garner negative attention from the ruling dispensation – fortunately, I was saved.

Then, in 2019, another cartoon was picked up by The Citizen, which covered stories on the reactions to the then Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Northeast. Around the time, Himanta Biswa Sharma had declared action against people spreading “wrong” information about the legislation. Some people in fact did get booked. I waited for my turn as well. Again, nothing happened. Maybe because I am based in a small city that no one has taken notice of, or I was just lucky. Either way, I have continued with my satirical take on the political dispensation, both regional and national (and sometimes international). Since 2020, U Jler Comics has become the platform for it. Politics and those associated with it, however, are not my only targets. Religion – I am an atheist – and the local right-wing have also been the subject of my satire.

I often receive angry reactions to some of these cartoons. Realising that these are lone individuals who are insecure, I do not give them much importance. Still, I am fully aware of the risk that comes with the territory. Satire offends (hopefully) for the purpose of bringing out the hypocrisy and contractions of those targeted.

It is natural that those who are offended will try to hit back. The fair thing would be for them to create their own satirical take on the hypocrisy and contractions of the satirist – in this case, me. But sadly, not many have the patience, talent or imagination.

The reaction, therefore, is always of threats and intimidation. Munawar Faruqui, Vir Das, Kunal Kamra, Manjul and Rachna Taneja have already found the hard way. One might wonder – why do it then? Why not just stop? For a cartoonist like me, the easy way would be to instead focus on the harmless or silly. There are many who do just that. In fact, I have made many cartoons without offending anyone.

Since the stories I do are highly varied, I could drop the political issues and focus more on such harmless stories. Tempting as it is, I cannot. My stories – offensive or otherwise- stem from the same imagination and are derived from what I believe in. Both feed on each
other. Here, my love for cartoons and progressive causes becomes important. As a member of Thma U Rangli-Juki, I have taken part in many movements for workers’ rights and other issues against the dominant narrative of the society, political and/or socio-cultural.

Here, I did face threats, legal and others. Many a time I was faced with the dilemma. Should I stop and betray what I believe in or continue and try to live an authentic life. I am sure Munawar Faruqui must have gone through the same emotions when he bid goodbye to something that gave him meaning. One day I might have to do the same. I will either make peace with the decision or it will haunt me for a very long time.

It is at that moment I will find out what I am. Till then I would like to continue trying to unravel the hypocrisy and the contradictions that surround us and present them to the world. Maybe it will make a difference, maybe it will not. It has made to me.

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