Mumbai-based woman cartoonist received numerous threats from followers of Asaram Bapu, who were enraged at the humorous and focused cartoons she drew of his illegal sexual exploits. During this period Kanika Mishra received phone calls from Bapu’s supporters threatening to kill her and her family.
When Kanika got word that the self-styled godman had been accused of raping the 16-year old daughter of two of his followers, she reacted in the most powerful way she could. Four hours after hearing that there was a police manhunt for Bapu, Kanika tweeted and posted to her Facebook page a cartoon tweaking Bapu supporters’ blind faith in their guru. Kanika followed her post with more cartoons with Karnika Kahen as the main character.
In an email interview with Anjana Parikh, Kanika, the co-recipient of the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning given by Cartoonists Rights Network International, talks about ‘Karnika Kahen’ who’s the voice of every woman of India.
AL: Tell us something about yourself?
Kanika: I am from Mumbai, a freelance cartoonist and animator. I completed my MFA from Lucknow College of Arts, did some jobs and training in animation in Delhi and got settled in Mumbai after marriage.
AL: When did you start your career as a cartoonist?
Kanika: I started making cartoons when I was doing BFA in Lucknow College of Arts. I made comic strips for children.
AL: When was ‘Karnika Kahen’ created?
Kanika: It was not planned. Karnika Kahen was born when I was very angry after hearing the news that Asaram allegedly raped a girl. I made a cartoon where Karnika was making fun of the blind faith of Guru’s devotees.
AL: Who is Karnika/ aam ladki? Tell us more about this character.
Kanika: Karnika is voice of every girl or every woman of India who wants freedom from the age-old traditional values, who wants to speak on social and political issues, who wants to dress as she likes and who is not afraid to speak her mind.
AL: Why aam lakdi and not aam admi?
Kanika: Crime against women is increasing rapidly in this country but our political and spiritual leaders seem indifferent about it. We hear statements like “Boys are boys, they make mistakes. Why hang them?” or “Small incidents like rape are affecting our tourism industry” or “Women invite rape by wearing western dresses”. So, I think, we needed a girl cartoon character on Indian political cartoons scene that can represent a girls’ voice. It is not only about the issues related to women but also to highlight a woman’s point of view on various social and political issues.
AL: When Karnika Kahen went against Asharam bapu, you received a lot of threats and abuses? Weren’t you scared?
Kanika: I was scared. Those days were horrible and we didn’t sleep for several nights, days or may be even months.
AL: What made you continue to express your anger during the time when you didn’t step out of your house?
Kanika: When followers of Asaram hacked my Facebook account, they found out most of the information about me and my husband, and our identities were revealed. Before that, only my cartoon character was facing the wrath. Asaram has strong following in the area where I live, I was little scared that they might attack us if they recognize us in a public place. But, I decided not to let fear get in my way. There were many young boys and girls who were sending me messages that they were proud of me. I decided not to let them down. I decided to make cartoons on Asaram until his followers are tired of abusing and threatening me.
AL: You’re the first woman cartoonist in India. What took such a long time for a woman to become a cartoonist in a country which has over 1 billion population?
Kanika: I think it is because of lack of encouragement. Last year, when I started making cartoons to express my political views, one senior cartoonist publicly scolded me and told me that I am not capable of making political cartoons and I should make illustrations for children. When I told him to keep his advice to himself, he threw me out from the group of cartoonists. This tells the mentality of our society. I am lucky that I have power of social media to express my views.
AL: How can a female cartoonist raise women issues in more depth and clarity?
Kanika: I think that female cartoonists will have a different point of view than her male counterparts because we know where it hurts the most. When one emerging leader gave this statement that “ Khap has cultural purpose, why ban them?”, I was very disappointed. No other cartoonist picked the issue but I made a cartoon on it within hours. I also made a cartoon on the incident when a husband killed his wife because she kissed a leader. And, it is not only about the issues related to women, it is also about giving ‘Aam’ woman a voice on every social and political issue.
AL: When the world is all praises for PM Narendra Modi, you took a dig on his recent interaction with the students. Why?
Kanika: There is only one day allotted to our teachers, why politicise it? I would have liked if this responsibility was given to some educationist or if our PM would have announced some new policies to fill the gap between students and teachers. And what a kid will understand by staying till 5’ O clock. My cartoon was based on the feedback of some kids and I added some spice in it.
AL: Last but not the least, who’s your favourite cartoon character and cartoonist?
Kanika: My favourite cartoon character is Dabbu Ji by Mr. Aabid Surti. I l used to love the extreme reactions in his cartoon strips and was very much inspired by it. He always encourages and congratulates me on my work. I also admire the work of Mr. R.K. Laxman.