• Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | December 7, 2014 | 02:40 pm IST  Of the several insensitive remarks made by leaders and politicians in India on rape, one which perhaps truly stands out was by spiritual leader Asaram Bapu on the Delhi gang-rape victim. In January 2013, Asaram Bapu reportedly said that the girl was equally at fault for getting raped. He also added that the girl could have avoided the rape had she pleaded with her assaulters to have mercy on her and if only she addressed them as bhaiyas (brothers). His statement not only landed him in deep soup, but also garnered him significant flak from across the nation. One such person, who found his comments extremely shocking and disturbing, was Mumbai-based cartoonist Kanika Mishra. “When I heard what he said, I felt very bad”, says Kanika. The chapter did not end there. Several months later when reports surfaced that Asaram had allegedly raped a minor, Kanika knew she had to express her anguish in some way. "I could not keep quiet anymore", she says. “I made a cartoon on Asaram and posted it on Twitter. It was a very random cartoon, I hadn’t even coloured it”, she states. Shortly after was born Karnika Kahen (Karnika speaks), a female cartoon character created by Kanika. “My first cartoon was based on Nirbhaya, and it is then I realized that I had to give a name to my central character. I then came up with Karnika Kahen, Karnika being similar to my name, and Kahen meaning speaks”, she explains. In October 2014, Kanika was awarded the "Courage in Cartooning" award from the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) in San Francisco. However, the journey from being a web-animator to a cartoonist expressing her thoughts on the current political situation in the country was anything but a cake walk. After Kanika opened a Karnika Kahen Facebook page, she did a series of cartoons on Asaram Bapu, who for a while had become a regular name on headlines. One of the national publications picked Kanika’s cartoons and published it on their website. What followed next was a barrage of abuses and threats from self-proclaimed fans of Asaram Bapu. “Hundreds of ‘followers’ thronged the Karnika Kahen Facebook page. They posted abusive comments, using filthy language”, asserts Kanika. “They asked me to pull down the cartoons on their ‘Bapu ji’”, she adds. Kanika was aware that everyone had a right to their opinion, just like she did and decided not to pay heed to their views. “Some people created a fake Facebook page on Karnika Kahen. They just ridiculed my cartoons and me on the page”, she says. Ultimately Kanika had to approach the police when the situation seemed to go out of control. “My account was hacked, they got my personal pictures and threatened to morph and misuse them. They got hold of my phone number and also threatened to kill my husband”, she says reminiscing. The page was then pulled down. For the thirty-four-year-old cartoonist, the abuse does get to her at times. “I feel that those who genuinely like my work and the page, may be discouraged from liking or commenting after reading the unpleasant remarks left by others”, she says. With a background in Fine Arts, Kanika has been working in the field of graphics and illustrations for over a decade. Some of her creations have been published in Bharat Pioneer, Swatantra Bharat, ANI and Punjab Kesari, she says.  With over 2700 followers on Facebook, Kanika knows that her cartoons will need more exposure. At present, she is trying to get sponsors and also approaching media houses that will publish her creations. "As an artist, I expect some creativity and freedom when working and that is what I am looking for right now", she states. Though she is yet to get any response from media houses, Kanika says she is surprisingly getting several offers from political parties. â€œBut I cannot work for a political party. I cannot take sides”, she says.  Apart from Asaram, who was a subject of Kanika’s cartoons earlier, she mostly works on political cartoons. However, Kanika feels that some BJP supporters are unable to take the slightest of criticism towards the party or its leaders. “They do not want to hear anything against Modi. I have nothing against our Prime Minister. But I have every right to point out the flaws I feel the government is making”, she states. “I once made a cartoon on Jashodaben, and one person asked me to pull it down”, she says. “Why should I? I do not make any money out of my cartoons. I have every right to express myself, just as other do”, she says in as-a-matter-of-fact way. Comparing the BJP to the UPA regime, Kanika says, “Cartoons were regularly made on Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Shiela Dixit. But people did not get this offended by them. I even made cartoons criticisng Arvind Kejriwal. In fact a few Kejriwal supporters even told me they liked my creations”. Kanika feels that the BJP has worked very hard on building an image which it in no way is ready to compromise on. As for cartoonists in India, she feels they have it relatively easy when compared to several other nations that strictly regulate the media. Whether it is being told that she is a 'bad cartoonist', to the regular dose of unhealthy comments, there is very less that deters Kanika. “I eventually plan to make cartoons on social issues, something as common and yet rampant as spitting on the roads”, says the cartoonist for whom there’s no looking back.