In 2012, a 1949 cartoon by Shankar included in a school textbook, which showed Jawaharlal Nehru whipping a snail-born Ambedkar to speed up the making of the Constitution, evoked strong protest from Dalits. Dalit activist and Lok Sabha MP Thol Thirumavalavan, supported by members cutting across party lines, raised the issue in parliament, called the cartoon “insulting to Ambedkar, Nehru and the whole nation.” HRD Minister at the time, Kapil Sibal, withdrew the book and stopped its distribution, and set up a committee of experts to remove objectionable cartoons from textbooks. These protests and actions were met with a Savarna counter on the grounds of artistic freedom.
In response to this episode, cartoonist and scholar Syama Sundar, pursuing his Ph.D. at the time, decided to undertake an archival survey of cartoons of Ambedkar in the English language press. The collection of over 100 cartoons by some of our best cartoonists – including Shankar, Enver Ahmed, and R.K. Laxman – tells a story of thoughtless bias and hostility, and asks us pressing questions about the social context of humor.
We are delighted to invite Syama Sundar – Ambedkarist, cartoonist, archivist – and S. Anand – publisher, an anti-caste junkie – to Mumbai Local, to talk about the politics of cartoons and the politics of laughter. They will focus on Sundar’s book No Laughing Matter: The Ambedkar Cartoons, 1932-1956, taking us through selected images, the stories associated with them, and the stories of sourcing them! Drawing out patterns, they will unveil the double-edged nature of humor, and ask not only what we are laughing at, but also why?
Join us on Friday for an evening that promises to make us re-look at cartoons, as not just those funnies that we love to see in papers, but images and expressions that carry deep connotations.
Curated by Bishakha Datta
RSVP for this session begins on Monday 11th November 2019.