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     Volume 11 |Issue 36| September 14, 2012 |


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Cartoonists in Crisis

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Along with a hamperfull of goodies like poor health, lack of mobility and diminishing hair, aging brings with it another choice gem - exponential increase in intolerance. Everything is irritating when you're old –even the incessant chirping of sparrows in the morning or the piercing squeals of children from the school playground next door. Often things are infuriating enough to make one want to wring someone's neck – for forgetting to pull the blinds during nap time for instance – if only one had the stamina to do so. Thankfully, as one ages the ability to carry out such violent thoughts is compromised by various ailments, infuriatingly so; at best verbal abuse or a smack on the head is the most extreme form of retribution one can get.

Aging politicians – and let's face it most of those who matter have crossed fifty, at least in the South Asian region – express their intolerance for the slightest criticism through various methods. These include public lambasting (at press conferences or children's painting award-giving ceremonies), making someone OSD (Officer on Special Duty who actually has no real job, hence the humiliation), a transfer to the remotest mufassil town or getting the irritant's boss to fire them. In a democracy, after all, especially with that 'freedom of expression' bit in the constitution, what more can one do? Unless of course one is the psychotic type of politician to actually use state agencies to make certain 'accidents' happen.

The latest arrest of Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and sedition charges against him for drawing wolves instead of the tigers and writing 'corruption shall prevail' instead of 'truth shall prevail' gives an indication of the zero tolerance of some Indian politicians for calling a spade a spade and having a bit of a laugh about it. Honestly, these guys really need to chill. Think about the West Bengal chief minister arresting a professor for forwarding a funny cartoon of her and also arresting a poor farmer who had the aashpordha (temerity) to question her farming policy at a public meeting. The West Bengal chief minister's case, however, may be called an extreme one as practically everything smells Maoist, and thus insufferable, to her.

Coming back to cartoonists, it's quite sad that these individuals, who are trying to make us laugh about cold, depressing, brutish reality and at the same time pointing out the 'boo boos' made by the powers that be, should be treated with such harshness. At the most a cartoonist could be scolded or criticized on Facebook or Twitter, for example, for drawing a bad cartoon or one that showed poor taste. But to publicly condemn an artist a traitor who could face the gallows or place a death threat on him for expressing his thoughts through his art, reveals intolerance that is far more harmful than a few delinquent doodles. Only a few years ago, even in our own, fairly tolerant country, a cartoonist and the paper featuring the offending cartoon along with the publisher of the paper, had to go through an unnecessary ordeal of intimidation and political bullying - though of course it was not a democratic government then. Fortunately so far, our politicians have not gone ballistic or thrown any political tantrums over the fairly consistent leg-pulling of our talented cartoonists. This shows quite clearly, that compared to Indian politicians our ones are at least less catatonic about cartoons.

It's hard to say whether it's because our politicians are wiser than their Indian counterparts when it comes to cartoons or whether they have far more hateful enemies to abhor - like journalists who write unnecessarily vitriolic reports or air 'biased news' on TV, to worry about. For the time being, it seems our dear cartoonists, who most certainly make life more tolerable by often giving us a good laugh after opening the morning paper, are safe from political wrath. Perhaps our politicians, despite their advanced ages and general intolerance for criticism, do possess that essential ingredient of humanity - a sense of humour.

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