A 2014 cartoon by Cartoonist Bala has gone viral on social media and earned the ire of many. The cartoon that appeared on Kumudham reporter magazine depicts DMK Chief M Karunanidhi watching actor turned politician Khushbu Sundar on TV declaring that she would be joining Congress (which she did in 2015) It shows Karunanidhi enthusiastically remarking that he would readily agree to an alliance with the Congress while his heir apparent MK Stalin watches on, fuming.
Khushbu calls the cartoon â€śextremely misogynistic.â€ť â€śI don't want to encourage this further by saying much, but he could have easily drawn another Congress leader in my place but he didn't. That tell you a lot about the way he thinks,â€ť she says, adding â€śPeople who draw, enjoy or entertain a cartoon like this, that exhibits their level of thinking.â€ť
This is not the first time that Bala or the magazine has been called out for misogyny and distasteful cartoons and the cartoonist is unapologetic.
Speaking to The News Minute, he said - â€śOne, this was something I drew in 2014 and now some women's rights groups are raking it up. I find it amusing that the women's wing of the DMK was the one that had kicked her out, and now women's rights activists are fuming over the cartoon. Two, this is simply political satire, I had no intention to demean women. It is a political comment. Anyone who wants to perceive it as anti-women can go ahead and do so, but I do not take responsibility for their perception.â€ť
When asked about the cartoon's depiction of Karunanidhi's enthusiasm at Khushbu joining the Congress with the colloquial "Haiyya!", he said â€śAsk Karunanidhi why he would have been excited about it. Don't ask me.â€ť
Filmmaker, writer and actor Leena Manimekalai says Bala and the magazine should publicly apologise for the cartoon as it had become a habit for them to portray women as just a piece of "seductive meat" .
â€śIn sections of Tamil Media, where sexism is something "cool", it is not a surprise to see a pervert like Cartoonist Bala being tolerated if not celebrated. One can see this pattern with party cadres, media and intelligentsia across all ideologies whenever it comes to gender," she says.
Manimekalai said Bala has a history of abusing women and even slut-shaming them. "He publicly slut-shamed me with a Facebook post when I criticised Tamil fanatics for targeting the screens of Filmmaker Prasanna Withanage's film "With you Without you" that dealt with a relationship of a Tamil woman and a Sinhalese man. I took it up with Kumudam as he had alleged that I get a lot of publishing space in Tamil because of my sexuality.â€ť
Ironically, Kumudam has published Manimekalai's poems, interviews, film reviews, story series and articles while she hasn't even met any of their editors. "Kumudam intervened following my objections in Facebook. Bala apologised and removed the post but it is now obvious that it was just an eyewash. To my surprise, a lot of Tamil intellectuals, writers, journalists and feminists whom I had respect for are his fans but this is also a pointer to know the world in the grains of sand," Leena said.
Journalist Kavitha Muralidharan pointed out that the issue was not about a cartoon alone, but about misogyny in media. "The cartoon and the thinking behind it is not just about Khushbu, misogyny in media has a larger history. His cartoon is about women in politics. This is the kind of shameless language he would use against women in general and against women from cinema in particular. Kumudam has to take responsibility and mend its ways. i also think journalists who believe in good journalism irrespective of gender should stand up to this kind of media misogyny.â€ť
This is not the first time Kumudam has faced flak for its brazen misogyny. Previously, the sensationalist magazine had taken a moral high ground over the issue of women wearing leggings. Earlier in September 2015, Kumudam carried a cover showing women in 'tight clothing'. The pictures, which were taken without the permission of these women, insinuated that men had committed acts of violence against women as they were lured by the image of leggings. With Bala's cartoon now making the rounds, here's proof that the magazine has never learnt from its past.