Tag Archive for Shankar

Cartoon Controversy: Who’s laughing?


The country needs several years of cartooning by Dalits to be ready for Shankar’s cartoons on Ambedkar. NCERT should have commissioned a contemporary cartoon reflecting people’s expectations, joys and angst about the constitution today

By Veena Shatrugna

It is unfortunate that some progressive organizations and intellectuals are protesting against the controversy created by the Indian Parliamentarians on the BR Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon in the NCERT text book of Standard XII. Drawn by Shankar in 1949, the cartoon depicts Nehru, with a whip in his hand, chasing Ambedkar, who is seated on a snail.

To begin with, the cartoon is irrelevant in today’s context. And yes, it does show Dr.B.R Ambedkar in very poor light. It should be noted that the Dalit icon was not found anywhere, not even acknowledged, in the school and college texts till the 90s, and now that he is visible, he is caricatured on top of a snail.

The explanation in the accompanying text to the cartoon does not counteract it sufficiently. The text provides reasons for delay in drafting the Constitution – the need for drafts to be circulated and consultations with sub committees. The cartoon however stands in contradiction to the text. Did Shankar not know that consultations were necessary?

This upper caste impatience is ironic considering that Dalits have waited for centuries for change to happen and even today the Constitution must be coaxed to work for the marginalized.

One must also question whether a political cartoon done over 60 years ago makes any sense today with or without the text. Cartoons have to be topical, their shelf life is limited -unless you are studying the history of humour.

Let us also not arbitrate that the Dalits do not appreciate humour. That was the weapon used against feminists long ago – the accusation that feminists usually do not ‘get the point or the humour’”.  How would anyone expect us to laugh at the jokes that degrade us as women?

In my family (Punjabi refugees from West Punjab) there is no space for any frivolous mention of the partition. Despite the fact that there is usually an overdose of Punjabi rustic humour otherwise. You mention the word partition and everyone is silent. It would take a long time for us to joke and laugh about it.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

How do you expect the Dalits to switch onto a humour mode, because ‘they must get on with life, or that the texts were put together by such eminent men and women or that the caricature was drawn by a legendary cartoonist’?

The country needs 20 to 30 years of cartooning by Dalits to be ready for Shankar’s cartoons on Ambedkar. It would be good to know when exactly Nehru learnt to laugh at himself – notwithstanding his elite background, his exposure to western liberal thoughts. Maybe it was after those thousands of cartoons which depicted him as the darling of the masses.

Let us not treat textbooks as if they were holy scriptures. Just because the textbooks were written after much deliberation, it does not mean that errors do not creep in. In a young democracy like ours, texts and textbooks should be updated/reviewed every 2 to 3 years.

Instead of taking a short cut, NCERT should have commissioned cartoons which reflects people’s expectations, joys and angst about the Constitution today, and there are plenty of examples, (even if we ignore Anna Hazare) where women, dalits, tribes, minorities, LGBT, to name a few, are struggling to make the Constitution work.

Veena Shatrugna is a medical doctor by training and is the former Deputy Director, National Institute of Nutrition. She is a member of Anveshi, Hyderabad.

Related reading: Cartoons All! Politicians and Self-Seekers