The Lockdown – Day Fifty-Four

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Pointing out that the political cartoons have vanished from Sindhi dailies, the writer says that there had been a global trend that whenever there are crises, conflicts, pandemics, or emergencies, all papers use to publish strong and bold political cartoons, to expose political decisions and policies, but here when there are crises and conflicts, like threat of rolling back of 18th Amendment, Coronavirus, Corruption, Poverty and Construction of Dams, he has not seen a powerful political cartoon in Sindhi print media.

Zaffar Junejo

The established newspaper industry, whatever its language might be, has a strong tradition of political cartoons. Mostly it is an artistic illustration, and caricature mixed with graphics. The cartoon is published on editorial pages, and therefore, is also called an editorial cartoon. The cartoon expresses the artist’s opinion, where he/she challenges the authority in a satirical way. The expression through cartoons is the oldest way to communicate or convey the message in a civilized way. Some types of cartoon related images are found in Egypt, where a known palette shows King Narmer (Menes) with some activity.

Historically, in the second half of the 18th-century political cartoons developed in England as a subversive idea to expose the power, challenge the system’s hegemony, and incompetence. James Gillray pioneered it, and later England’s one of the satirical magazines named Punch, London established it as a communication tool. So, it could be said that the Indian Subcontinent learned it from the Masters. It is also true that Punch magazine made cartoon, so popular that, when in the 19th Century ‘Cartoon’ word was uttered or written, it was understood that reference is being made to Punch Magazine, although cartoons as a satirical idea of English literature were founded in earlier works of William Hogarth. He has shown through connected images that how in the 18th Century’s British corruption was taking place in society.

Generally, in Britain, it is believed that Punch was one of the magazines that for an extended time presented cartoons on Indian Mutiny. However, most of the cartoons portrayed Briton as a ‘Great Nation,’ ‘Protector,’ and ‘Jurist.’ Punch’s dynamic cartoonists illustrated the 1857 Indian Rebellion in favor of the British public’s popular image about India. So, India was shown as a weak nation, and on the other hand, the British were shown as a stronger nation.

Some of the European countries and the United States of America’s institutes offer degrees in political cartoons and related subjects. One of them is Staffordshire University, United Kingdom. It offers BA (Honors) in Cartoon and Comic Arts. According to the university, the admitted students in the program are trained to work in distinct areas such as comics, graphic novels, newspapers, and editorial design and layout. I spoke to Rashid Ahmed Khuhro of Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Sindh, Jamshoro, and enquired about the teaching status of cartoon and comic as the subjects or program in the university.  He told that the department does not offer such a program. However, he said that the University of Malaya, where he is pursuing his Ph.D. offers such a subject and even Ph.D. is also earned and awarded.

The political cartoons as a British tradition came to India, which was carried out in Calcutta (Kolkata), Madras (Chennai), Delhi and Bombay (Mumbai). Later, after the partition, initially English newspapers carried it, and later Urdu and Sindhi newspapers also followed the trend. It started to take roots through newspapers in the late 1970s. Nigar with her cartoon name Gogi appeared for the first time in 1970 in Karachi based magazine, entitled ‘Institute of Arts and Crafts.’ In the art world, Nigar became famous as Gogi. She has worked on corruption, extremism, violence, women’s rights, and girls’ education. From early 1970s to 1980s, Sindhi daily Hilal-e-Pakistan engaged the staff cartoonist on regular basis. Two of those cartoonists – Sidi Mahmood and Abdullah Thebo were very popular at that time. In the late 1970s, Rafique joined The Muslim newspaper as cartoonist adopting the name of Feica. Afterward, he also worked with The Star, Dawn, Herald, and the Frontier Post. Likewise, Jawed Iqbal worked with Daily Jang. Later for a brief period, Yusuf Lodhi also emerged as a cartoonist, but mostly he worked as an editorial staff. He worked with the Frontier Post, and the Herald magazine, and in 1990s, he had joined Sindh Tribune of Yussouf Shaheen. In 1970s Farooq Qaiser also worked, however, his areas were documentary, puppet shows, and later he also worked as a cartoonist. Likewise, Khuda Bux Abro also worked with the Dawn group of publications. Abro’s illustrations helped the readers to understand political comprehension as well as a reconceptualization of political events.

Sindhi print media occasionally engaged the cartoonists, and some of them illustrated powerful images. I could recall some names Munwar Abro, Kaptan Abro, and Murad Ali Shah Bukerai. Abro brothers worked with Kawish Group, while Bukerai remained associated with the Ibrat Group. Some of their works were framed in such a way that it was difficult to link those works with Sindh or Pakistan. In a way, their works portrayed a political worldview.

On our side, political cartoons started to decline in the 2000s. There might be more than one reason. But some of them assume this change with the development of society, specialization, unipolar world, and commercialization in the print media. Analyzing the situation, Kathmandu-based magazine Himal Southasian started International Cartoon Competition with a purpose to revive and boost the tradition. In 2008 Himal received three hundred entries from one hundred seventy-three cartoonists from all over the world. The event went so successful that the magazine started the Annual International Cartoonists’ Congress. One of the encouraging aspects of that submission was that cartoons’ text may be in any South Asian language, and it should be with English translation.

Himal Southasian event was so inspiring that in 2008, I also started it from the News and Opinion Magazine platform. The submission dates and other details were propagated through daily Kawish. Interestingly, none of the artists expect Murad Ali Shah Bukerai submitted the cartoon. It was a prized activity. The first winner was entitled to get Rs.30000, and second was Rs.20000 and the last one was entitled to get Rs.10000. But due to no competition, the event was canceled. But still, I had Murad Ali Shah Bukerai’s submitted cartoon with me. I remember, he also gifted me with a booklet of his printed cartoons.

Historians consider the cartoon as a historical source which tells a lot about events. It communicates the public image or aspirations. For instance, cartoons about Pir Pagaro, and his statements from the 1980s to 1990s communicate a lot about Sindh’ suffering and Pakistan’s politics.

We as the reader should be clear that if such and such newspapers’ editorial pages have ‘cartoons or the absence of cartoons’, it says a lot. Someone may consider it as papers’ editorial staff is not too sensitive regarding political communication or the newspapers have certain political priorities. One must understand that political cartons as a medium is more different from other mediums because it has non-editing status. Therefore, cartoon staff or freelance artists’ created political cartoons are either carried on, rejected/destroyed, or redrawn according to paper policies or editors’ liking or disliking.

Another global trend is found that whenever there are crises, conflicts, pandemics, or emergencies, all papers having whatever circulation print strong and bold political cartoons, where political decisions and policies are exposed and attacked. But nowadays when there are crises and conflicts, such as the threat of rolling back of the ‘18th Amendment,’ ‘Pandemic – Coronavirus,’ ‘Corruption, ‘Poverty,’ and Construction of Dams,’ in such a situation, I have not seen a powerful political cartoon in Sindhi print media. What should I say?  Let me assure our editorial staff that the modern world gives importance to political cartoons because political cartoons help the citizens to understand the event, and criticize it. On the other hand, cartons support opinion-shaping and decision making along with entertainment. And do not forget, cartoons as a visual representation of the political act also equally appeals to illiterate people.

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Zaffar Junejo is Ph.D. Scholar at Department of History, University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods.
For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier

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