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Behind the Lines: Political Cartoons in India The incredible people behind the most every-day images

Australian newspapers and political cartoons have a love affair stemming back to its original print. Apart from its role as a watchdog on politicians and celebrities, it’s a way of showing our larrikin humour – with the tongue and cheek act on ourselves.

Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist John Shakespeare sums up the industry in one word: irreverent. “I’m sure as long as there’s newspapers, there’ll be cartoonists. People enjoy that light relief that cartoons give.”
Sydney Morning Herald, September 15 2015

Journalism in India: with Dr Jayati Sharma

Dr Sharma of Amity University: Rajasthan says that when looking at the history of journalism in India, it has always held a purpose to inform - and with the public becoming more aware of media, they are able to critique.

Do you think that there is a lot of censorship with the government into what’s been shown in humour – any satire that has been put on the government?

Fortunately, or unfortunately: no. The reason being that in India specifically if you talk about the freedom of media we have one article 19A which is guaranteed by the constitution of India. That every individual will have the freedom to speak. So, basically it is freedom of speech.
Under that particular right, media is also operating. So, even if it is a…non reasonable censorship…government pressure that is there to some extent. But, people are more aware now. So when a new government tries to take hold of certain media outlets, or they force some unnecessary, illogical censorship – they know how to react on that.

In India however, political cartoons play a more vital role.

In the state of Rajasthan alone, near to 40% of its population are illiterate – with the major cause being poverty and discrimination stemming from cultural history. With Rajasthan having a steady 25% population growth, education is also declining - according to 2011 Indian Census data.

Cartoons in Jaipur: with LS Nahar

I wouldn’t find it for Delhi – but Jaipur in particular is filled with art. When the city was designed in the 18th Century – the gates like Suraj pol and Chand pol that you will see near the centre each have their own design of paintings, depending on when they were built. Because it is also a royal city, the paintings and architecture show [wealth] next to the poor. In Central Park here, you have see over there…

He gestures towards the main gate

Even this is filled with art.

I don’t know if cartoonists are inspired by the art, but I think the community is. Jaipur is known for its colour. I think for cartoons, it's all Western inspired.

I began as an artist, studying a diploma of fine arts in Rajasthan, then a MA in Drawing and Painting at the University of Rajasthan - but I was familiar with the way journalism worked. My political cartoons began from scribbles, to paintings, to satire – and that’s a recognisable story for most cartoonists in the industry. My tools are paint and watercolours, I have never done digital...

However, I feel that’s more showing my age. He laughs.

You’ll most commonly find that if a cartoon is appearing in an English newspaper – say, the Times of India – it will be in English. If it is in Hindi, the writing will be in Hindi. I’ve always found you have more typography to play with: much like I see with Arabic and Thai fonts; and you can see in my work. I can’t speak English well, and so will always draw in Rajasthani dialect.

Surprisingly enough, there isn’t a lot of censorship from India’s government: if you’re fair. So, if you’re making a comment on a certain politician that is fair, and you’re not completely making bias – that is fine. In fact, I would say they go quite a way of promoting it.

But there's a good reason for that.

Have you noticed that at any of the drink stands you see on the street, there always is a big pile of newspapers?

Newspapers are something you have if you’re intellectual, smart, up-with-the-times. But, people in Jaipur, most can’t read. So, they will stand there with the newspaper open – but they will be looking at the cartoons.

Cartoons are a very important part of newspapers, because they inform these people. They are able to see the cartoon and understand the current affair that is happening in the world. From there, there has been some cases where it has helped people learn the read.

I think this is why also the government is encouraging of cartoons.

Translated from Hindi. Interviewed September 2017.

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