Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nepalese Newspaper Cartoons Champion Cause of Common People

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Justly or not, Nepalese newspaper cartoons have become a provocative symbol of Nepalese journalism, riding roughshod over the corrupt politicians, institutions and other social and political ills.The Nepalese newspaper and magazine cartoons do not just make fun of the political heavyweights, they make mockery of various social and political ills.

Nepalese newspaper cartoons do not just fire salvos at some powerful persons or institutions, they also compel us to think ahead about many burning issues. A newspaper cartoon thus provides some entertainment too, enthrall the readers.

Not only during the days of authoritarian Panchayat regime, not only during former king Gyanendra's repressive rule, but even today newspaper cartoons have been occupying an indispensable position in Nepalese journalism by playing a watchdog role. Therefore, the impact of the Nepalese newspaper cartoons on the social and political life of Nepal is immense.

The Nepalese newspaper cartoonists have been championing the cause of the common Nepalese people, be it today or be it during the repressive Panchayat regime. Well, they faced numerous challenges from the authorities but they never compromised on their journalistic viewpoint. Today, Nepal has a free press and editorial cartoonists are not under any kind of pressure. But it was not so during the Panchayat regime, the challenges facing the cartoonists and editors during the Panchayat era were indeed formidable. The editors of the newspapers were frequently harassed and arrested  by the authorities for printing 'objectionable' cartoons.

Nepal was notorious for lack of press freedom during the 30 years of Panchayat misrule. No body was allowed to say anything against the monarchy. In fact, monarchy allowed only the veneer of press freedom to take hold. It was under such circumstances that the famous and historical weekly newspapers Samikshya, Matribhumi and Rastrapukar had to operate. Under tough censorship dilemmas, these  and some other newspapers had published so many cartoons making fun of the Panchayat government and exposing other social and political ills.

It was during the period of the Panchayat system that the Nepalese newspapers used to bring out a special Gai Jatra issue (once every year)  in which they used to address many socio-economic and political maladies, and used to print cartoons and caricatures lampooning the politicians and their modus operandi.

Batsyayana is considered to be the founding pillar of Nepalese newspaper cartooning. In fact, Batsyayan is the quintessence of modern Nepalese newspaper cartooning. History of freedom of the press in Nepal will be incomplete without mentioning the effective and powerful   cartoons of senior cartoonist Batsyayan. Other notable newspaper cartoonists of Nepal are Rajesh KC, Rabin Sayami, Subhas Rai, Basu Chhitiz, Uttam Nepal and Akrir. These guys have made themselves indispensable to the Nepalese newspaper cartooning.

It goes without saying that cartoons, just like the photos, can say what a news story can not say even in thousand words. There is no doubt that the corrupt political stalwarts, palpably, are not happy with the intrepid cartoonists and journalists. Hundreds of Nepalese newspaper cartoons have focused on questionable corrupt practices and vested interest of the powerful politicians who today are playing blame game  on each other for unnecessary delay in writing the constitution.

Newspaper cartoonists should be very sensitive while sketching cartoons related to ethnic and racial matters. There were cases in Nepal as well as in the United States when some cartoons were mired in controversies.  Newspapers had to issue a public mea culpa for inappropriate and wrongful depiction.

For example, on Nov 24, 2014 The New York Times published a news story headlined "Newspaper Apologizes for Cartoon on Immigrants" which  says: "The Indianapolis Star removed a cartoon from its website over the weekend after readers complained that the drawing was racist for depicting an immigrant family climbing through a window to crash a white family's Thanksgiving dinner."

The newspaper should not have published the cartoon, the paper's executive editor, Jeff Taylor was quoted as saying in the statement on Saturday. The cartoon, by the artist Gary Varvel, featured a white family unhappy telling his family "Thanks to the president's immigration order, we'll be having extra guests this Thanksgiving."

*I value your opinion. Please provide your feedback by posting a comment below.
**Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

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