Wednesday, November 4, 2015

He's Hindu. Male. Upper caste. And his cartoons take on the Prime Minister

The conversation about intolerance and pluralism may have hit drawing rooms in the past few weeks but for graphic artist Orijit Sen, it has been all-consuming for over a year-and-half. 

It started as a reaction to Penguin's decision to pulp Wendy Doniger's book on Hindus, and let to a series of over 50 cartoons through which Sen expresses his angst against the muzzling of free speech. "That was the immediate trigger. It set me thinking. I realised that the pulping of the book was symbolic. We had succumbed to the intolerant fascist forces and it served their objective," he says.

He is happy that people who didn't speak out earlier because they were beneficiaries of the Modi government's largesse have also decided to join the movement. Sen's cartoons were first curated by eminent writer Githa Hariharan.
Orijit Sen cartoons 6
But his anguish is not limited to one political dispensation; he calls out leaders on all sides of the political divide for what he sees as their attacks on freedom, on tolerance, on rationality, on plurality. He's used social media to share his work, and trolls have naturally followed. "I face abuse online. I have never faced any physical threat." So far.

Is he scared now because his cartoons are so unambiguous in their messaging? "I am afraid like anyone else. Kalburgi paid the ultimate price. I am privileged - Hindu, male, upper caste. If I do not speak out, who will? It is my responsibility."

This isn't a planned series, though; these are 'off-the-cuff' responses to what's in the news. "I take about an hour on average to make a cartoon and put them out on social media, mostly Facebook." He's now readying to publish them, but won't reveal the publisher. "Obviously it is not Penguin," he chuckles. Here, a selection of Sen's most provocative and insightful works in his own words.