Row over cartoons: Charlie Hebdo is no lone wolf, others have defied too

  • Deekshita Baruah, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 09, 2015 02:39 IST

In a brazen daylight assault, masked, black-clad gunmen killed some of France's most outspoken journalists at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris.

The publication has long drawn condemnation and threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirised other religions and political figures.

Charlie Hebdo has not been alone in stirring the hornet's nest and there have been other illustrations and sketches that have riled people and stirred discussions.

Here's a look at a few of them:

1 In 2012, Doonesbury the popular comic strip by cartoonist Garry Trudeau whipped up a storm when a series of illustrations showed a woman seeking abortion enquiring about a sonogram.

Trudeau weighed in on the issue of a Texas law that requires women seeking abortions to receive sonograms with a cartoon that featured a woman being asked to wait in the shaming room of a clinic. A middle-aged male later joins her only to call her a 'slut'. While this rattled most of the conservative American newspapers, the illustration was pointed and destined to generate a controversy.

2Last year, Spanish artist Luis Quiles took the internet by storm when he published a series of images that dog modern society. His illustrations that exploited topics like violence, drugs, sexism, perversion and exploitation evoked sharp responses among readers.

3Artist Gil Vicente sparked controversy in 2010 at the Sao Paolo Art Biennial where he showcased series of nine charcoal drawings titled Inimigos (Enemies) that depicted him assassinating heads of states, the Queen of England and the Pope Benedict XVI.

4 Street art legend Banksy, known for his guerrilla-style tactics, got people talking when he published the storyboard illustrations of the minute-long opening sequence of The Simpsons featuring an Asian sweatshop.

The sketches show a dark, rundown factory where workers animate sketches of the family and cats are shown being thrown into a wood chipper to create stuffing for merchandise for Bart Simpson dolls.

5Although it's been more than two decades, Peanuts deserve a special mention. Charles M Schulz's introduction of Franklin into the Peanuts comic strip in the summer of 1968 marked the beginning of a new era.

At the time when Black characters in newspaper comics mainly appeared in supporting roles, Franklin was a welcome change. Nevertheless, Schulz received flak for it and several newspapers chose not to run the series. Franklin now appears regularly in strip.

The Indian connection:

1 Indian political cartoonist and activist Aseem Trivedi created quite a stir with his anti-corruption campaign Cartoons Against Corruption. In January 2012, a case of sedition was filed against him in Maharashtra's Beed district court.

His website was also suspended by Crime Branch, Mumbai. But this did not stop Trivedi who quickly created a blog and uploaded his sketches there. His cartoons particularly provoked Bharatiya Janata Party member Ram Kripal Yadav, who initiated a discussion in Rajya Sabha labelling the cartoons as an insult to Parliament.

2 Ambikesh Mahapatra, a Jadavpur University professor, was beaten up by a group of Trinamool Congress activists and later put behind bars on the charge of circulating a cartoon lampooning West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The caricature which took inspiration from Satyajit Ray's thriller Sonar Kella showed the CM and Mukul Roy discussing how to get rid of party MP Dinesh Trivedi. Mamata even went ahead to say that it was an attempt at character assassination.

3There were heated arguments in the political as well as academic fields over the cartoon of BR Ambedkar in a Class 11 NCERT political science textbook. The illustration by cartoonist Shankar Pillai showed former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru holding the whip and Ambedkar sitting on the snail (that represented the Indian Constitution).

In use since 2006, the cartoon remained unnoticed, until Thirumavalavan, president of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a Dalit political party in Tamil Nadu, and Ramdas Athawale, president of the Republican Party of India, raised the issue in Parliament, demanding its immediate ban. According to them, the cartoon implied a Brahmin Nehru trying to undermine Dalit Ambedkar.

4However, this is not the end. Take a look at the other controversial cartoons that were found in NCERT textbooks over the years.

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