Saturday, June 9, 2012

No place for political cartoon in Text Books






Image courtesy: The Hindu

If you are impatient, just go to the last few paragraphs of this blog. And I promise I won't hate you for that.

NCERT has landed into trouble yet again over another cartoon. The above cartoon has riled up some political parties from Tamil Nadu. Knowing the tendencies of the political parties - especially the Dravidian ones, it is quite valid to pause and ponder - 'Are these parties, just using this opportunity to pander to their constituents?'. And, an emphatic answer 'Yes' to the question should not surprise anyone. However, in a democracy such acts of protests and opportunistic anger brings attention to the historical issue and the current generation has the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of such an agitation, the disadvantages and advantages of actions and inaction, and the ideology and opportunism of various political parties and leaders.

However, the cartoon is nuanced and draws the attention of mature audience to the plight of the foot soldiers of that agitation. And of course it is political in nature. As a matter of generalization, all agitations require two classes of people - the intellectuals driven by ideology and the foot soldiers who are either convinced of the ideology/propaganda of the intellectuals or emotionally impressionable to act at the bid of the charismatic leaders.

Let me take a brief comical diversion. In the late 80s, I was studying in a college in Tamil Nadu (that is the only specifics you are going to get from me - remember the movie 'You Got Mail' ? No specifics). Okay I do need to stress that the college was run by a minority community - who originally hail from the North-West parts of India, though a migrant community in the tamil regions - they talked tamil outside their homes but talked in their mother-tongue at homes, family settings and with community friends. One day, out of blue, some blokes decided to have a strike. Reason? Anti-imposition of Hindi agitation. So the crowd a mixture of tamilians and non-tamilians went to Doordarshan campus and protested against imposition of Hindi. And with me there was  a Bengali, a Maharastrian and a pukka Hindi-wala. It was fun, we followed the leaders meekly, did a bunch of shouting, then went on to eat lunch and watch Englipeechu movies.

Sorry for that interruption - R.K.Laxman - the cartoonist, did have a good pulse of the protesters. They did not know much of English or Hindi. Are they to blame for that, absolutely not. Like I said earlier, they either (a) agreed with the ideology of their leaders (b) emotionally swayed by their leaders. Whatever be it, one does not need to know English in order to protest anti-imposition of another language - in this case Hindi.

Should cartoons be analyzed this much? Yes, isn't that the reason cartoons are drawn? To make us think. Thinking leads to more discussions - going back and forth on issues, no?

I am convinced, so should you be, that some protesters are easily swayed and get rather highly emotional than others. And in a mob setting, the mob psychology kicks in. The mob pelts stones, burns buses and in some cases even there are cases of self-immolation. In Tamil Nadu, some people can easily be riled by partisan politics. Again a very small diversion. Long, long ago, I was traveling in a bus in Tamil Nadu. Like all buses, in those days, the bus stopped at a bus stop. Lo, there was some kind of flash mob or something, a part-man from one party suddenly snuck under the front tires of our bus - lying down on the road, he challenged the bus driver to drive the bus over his body. The other party-men egged their comrade in arms. I cannot remember which party he belonged to - it must have been DMK or AIDMK.

So now you must be convinced the elites truly ignite the passions among the lay people and make them lose rational behavior and behave like a sheep - even the parties that tout the rationality in their leaders - EVR, Karunanidhi etc. All parties resort to gimmicks and emotional blackmails, just not the Dravidian parties.

However, the agitation was an important one in the annals of our history. The agitation was not against Hindi but against the imposition of Hindi. The Dravdian parties had a history of being anti-brahmins, on close inspection one would see what started out was the anger against brahmins and other forward castes for their behavior and conduct. Prosperity and power cannot be held by a small community, while the bulk of the population merely watches. Common sense would easily lead us to believe that not all brahmins and forward castes were well off; but definitely among the most successful in the late 19th century one would find brahmins and other forward castes. And the elites from the ranks of other castes rose, including some opportunistic from forward castes, who fought against the tyranny of caste oppression in the Southern India. One ramification was the evolution of hatred towards brahmins in the tamil regions. So what started as a clamor for prosperity and power, slowly morphed into anti-brahmin attitude in some communities and political parties. So is the case of the anti-imposition of Hindi agitation; some people hated Hindi because it was imposed on them. Is it right? It does not really matter if it is right or wrong, that is how the ideas shaped and evolved. Is it right for the river to burst its banks and flood the villages? Don't bother answering.

Children are very smart, yet they can act very cruel. We all are conditioned to conform to the society's rules. Though, I know several adults who require disciplining, it is the children who clearly need more disciplining and guidance. Why? Because the teenage brains are not the same as the adult brains. Really? Yes. Read.

The teen brain is really a work in progress.

While 95 percent of the human brain has developed by the age of six, scientists tell FRONTLINE that the greatest spurts of growth after infancy occur just around adolescence.

Lot of stereotyping forms early in our life: in our school settings, inside our homes, with friends and family. While a teenager might be quick to grasp Schrodinger's equations, I believe certain topics have to be discussed very carefully. No topic is taboo. However, a good analysis is required - just like the time when one sits with friends to talk about religion and philosophy over beer, whiskey and snacks :-)

Like I said, Children are very smart and given the appropriate setting they have the knack to ask tough questions, intelligent questions, silly questions, right questions, wrong questions - but questions that they will ask. They will debate endless and love arguments. They will rebel against establishment - teachers and parents.

Knowing the Indian education system, I do not give any benefit of doubt, to the system. Such cartoons will continue to strongly stereotype the anti-imposition agitators and tamilians. Granted, some of the protesters did not know what they were doing, granted the political parties in the past and present are using to further their chances in the elections, granted it is stupid to hate any language, granted ....., granted some of the political leaders are really morons and are not fit to lead any party - they are a disgrace to the humanity. Yet......

Such cartoons have no place in a 12th class text book. The best places for them are in newspapers, magazines and leaflets - that will stimulate cerebral discussions.  The same goes for the Ambedkar cartoons. I smell something foul in the air w.r.t to all these cartoons. Lampooning people in cartoons is fine, and a free society should have the liberty to mock, insult or ridicule communities - however, within limits bestowed by common sense. Maybe the cartoons would be good material for some Master level courses - definitely not for 12th standard.

"The Hindu" link above has the following:

Novelist and former Tamil professor of Delhi University, Indira Parthasarathy, said those who prepared the text books had no business to use cartoons that make a political statement. “A cartoon could have been drawn in the different context in the past and it could convey a different meaning in a changed context. You cannot expect a student to keep in mind the earlier context and view the cartoon,” he said.

Mr. Parthasarathy said though it was a matter a debate whether one should sacrifice one's life for a protest like the anti-Hindi agitation, the person's commitment to the cause should be respected.


Repeating like a parrot, children are very smart yet they need to be guided on sensitive and mature subjects. And religion, sex and politics are such topics. It is better to error on the side of caution - Withdraw the cartoons.

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