On 1 May, the cartoonist Suhail H. Naqshbandi illustrated with this cartoon a text in which he explained his reasons for quitting his job as an editorial cartoonist for the newspaper Greater Kashmir. The censorship of the medium and pressure from the government ended up making his work impossible.
It is not very common to read letters of resignation from cartoonists; it is normal that when problems with the medium start, the cartoonist tries to sail until the storm passes or, in a bad way, ends up being invited, always very kindly, to leave with any excuse of protocol. Of course, all this changes depending on the country.
Censorship and pressure
Naqshbandi started working for the Greater Kashmir newspaper in 1998, a year after it was founded. He started publishing a daily cartoon called “Inside Out ‘. In 2002 he took a break and returned in 2016. At first he felt supported by the editors and the situation was not so bad. However, during the last few years everything got worse. And a lot worse.
Institutional advertising started to disappear from Kashmiri newspapers, which were already starting to reduce their revenues significantly, leading to delays in payments and then cuts of almost 50% in salaries. But the worst was yet to come, the censorship and pressures became unbearable.
Censorship became evident, especially since February 2019, when the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to identify what they called “resistance art” coming out of Kashmir. Basically, any artistic or literary voice protesting against oppression was to be singled out and monitored.
Suhail Naqshbandi, turning to watercolours
For Naqshbandi, self-censorship was always there and he says it is something most journalists, cartoonists and writers in Kashmir are familiar with.
“I had started self-censoring a while ago. I was never told not to do this or that. But if I did a cartoon on the home minister, for example, and it didn’t get published, the message they were sending me was very clear.”
In an interview with Free Speech Collective, Naqshbandi recounted how the pressures were no longer “subliminal”:
“I would ask why my cartoons weren’t being published and I would get replies with hints suggesting that I should stay away from political cartoons. Draw about environmental or social issues, I was told. I couldn’t draw cartoons against political personalities, against the regime. I could still work on satire, but the options began to narrow down.
Naqshbandi cartoon, March 2018
The latest incident of censorship came when he submitted this cartoon about a historical moment 19th century shawl weavers’ revolt in 1865 known as “Chal Baaf Tehreek”, which the newspaper refused to publish.
The Dogra rulers of the time had imposed a tax that crippled the shawl weavers’ industry and many of them came out to demonstrate in Srinagar on April 29, 1865. The weavers and their Khandwaaws (apprentices), led by Shiekh Rasool and Abli Baba, marched through the streets of Srinagar city towards the palace of Kripa Ram, the governor of Kashmir, on 29 April 1865
Dogra’s army charged at the demonstrators, 28 workers were killed that day.
For Naqshbandi, the newspaper’s refusal to publish even a cartoon about such a tragic and important event in his country’s history, which happened more than 150 years ago, was not only absurd, it also gave him the final push to quit his job. His last cartoon was published on 27 April 2019.
Naqshbandi has decided to continue publishing his cartoons online under the new title “Come what may”.
World Press Freedom Day cartoon posted on 3 May on his Facebook page
India, a grim situation and some cause for hope
Nor should we forget the recent case of the cartoonist and journalist G. Bala, who was arrested in 2018 for a cartoon that the authorities deemed obscene and defamatory in which he caricatured Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami naked along with two other members of the Tirunelveli district police and administration.
On 9 September 2012, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested in Mumbai on charges of sedition for publishing cartoons about corruption in India. He was charged with insulting national emblems, ridiculing Parliament, the flag and the constitution and charged with sedition for violating Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The Maharashtra Police in Mumbai also filed charges against him for insulting India’s national symbols. He faced two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 5,000.
Other journalists, cartoonists and comedians also had to face justice for risking satire on religious matters o politicians. But you don’t have to be a comedian, just share a meme about an official or a politician to end up in jail.
“A cartoonist should be able to work without any inhibitions”
This was the resounding conclusion of this sentence (PDF) of the Madras High Court in April 2018, which decided and closed the case of a defamation suit filed against the daily Dinamalar and its cartoonist “Karna“, for the publication, on 7 January 2013of a joke portraying party members as monkeys DMK as monkeys.
Replies to this interview were received on 22 May 2109. All the cartoons illustrating it were censored by the newspaper for which Suhail worked.
how many cartoons has the newspaper censored since the pressure began?
More than a hundred over a period of four years.
The newspaper also censored a historical cartoon about a historical event in 1865. Do you think censorship goes beyond political cartoons and may be a strategy of global control of any opinion about the state?
Surprisingly, the cartoon was not even directly related to the current government. It was related to a time when Kashmir was ruled by a monarchy. I guess the editor didn’t want to take a chance and play it safe about this period.
Cartoon, also rejected, alluding to a speech made by Prime Minister Narenda Modi in which he talked about beating up Kashmiris
at what exact moment did you decide to quit your job at the newspaper?
The usual censorship made the job difficult, as it meant working much harder to make a cartoon with a satirical or non-confrontational stance, but the breaking point came when salaries were cut by almost 50 per cent because the state withdrew institutional advertising from the paper which, according to the management, affected its income. It was no longer just a question of reduced salaries, I felt there was a limit below which you cannot sell your work.
what was the newspaper’s reaction to your resignation?
Unfortunately there was no response from them. No reply to my resignation email, no call, nothing.
Another cartoon about abuses of the population that was censored by the paper
I am very curious about the fact that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is asking the J&K administration to identify what they called ‘resistance art’ coming out of Kashmir. What exactly does this body do? How does this body identify and catalogue dissenting voices?
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is a ministerial level agency of the Government of India responsible for the formulation and administration of rules, regulations and laws in the areas of information, broadcasting, press and films in India.
As elections were approaching and as part of their plan to control dissenting voices, they requested this report from the Jammu and Kashmir administration. It is pertinent to mention that Jammu and Kashmir is a state in northern India. It is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan.
One part of it is controlled by Pakistan and the other by India since 1947, when the British left India. Before that, Jammu and Kashmir was an independent kingdom. Before the British colonisers left India, the partition of India passed to Pakistan and India along religious lines. Hundreds of thousands of people died along the way.
Another that the newspaper did not want to publish about the treatment of violence against the Kashmiri population by some of the media
The newly formed Pakistan attempted to take control of Kashmir, prompting the king to seek military assistance from India. The then prime minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru made a promise to the people of Kashmir that accession would be temporary until things returned to normal and then a plebiscite would be held under UN supervision whereby the people of Jammu and Kashmir could decide their political fate on whether they wanted to remain in India, Pakistan or remain independent.
That promise was never fulfilled, even after things returned to normal. So a separatist feeling was created among the people and they felt betrayed and, in response, there was an armed rebellion against the Indian state in Kashmir since the 1990s, to demand their right to self-determination.
The Indian state opted for a crushing military response that left many dead, human rights abuses and censorship, which continues to this day. All this has led many storytellers to respond to the tragedies through their art. From writing, painting, graphic humour and music. And since my political cartoons were in the public domain and criticised the state on a daily basis, I think that had a lot to do with the increased censorship of my work.
In the interview with FSC you talk about the case of another cartoonist forced out of the profession. Who is this artist?
Actually there are two of them. One is Malik Sajad and the other is Mir Suhail. But their cases date back several years.
do you know of other cases of cartoonists in trouble for their opinions?
I have read a lot about the cartoonist Zunar, who was arrested recently. And others around the world who are forced to quit their jobs or their cartoons are censored. Even in countries like the United States.
has the cartoonists’ collective in India spoken out about the cases of censorship and pressures on media and authors?
Yes, there is a constant discussion about it. In fact, last year in a southern Indian state, the government filed a case against a cartoonist there. However, the High Court ruled in favour of the cartoonist saying that he and others have the freedom to criticise the government as enshrined in the Indian constitution.
Another censored cartoon, interestingly, spoke of the blocking of the Internet as a strategy of repression
how do you see the future of editorial cartoonists in your country?
I am sceptical about this because the current government believes in total censorship and has a good chance of coming back to power – by the way tomorrow the election results will start coming out – but all this has led to more people publishing satirical works in the form of cartoons, videos and memes that reach a large number of people through social media. You no longer need a traditional publication to showcase your work. That’s a ray of hope.
Suhail Naqshbandi is a Kashmiri graphic artist, who uses his vignettes, paintings, illustrations and designs to tell socially themed stories. He works in traditional and digital media.
Growing up in a family of artists, he was exposed to art as a child. When the armed revolt broke out in Kashmir Suhail was a teenager and remembers the bloodshed and social drama it caused, since then he has not stopped drawing. At the age of 21, he started working for the daily Greater Kashmir, becoming its first editorial cartoonist. Later, he worked outside the state in different fields related to teaching and multimedia creation. In 2015 he returned to Kashmir and in 2016 he returned to work for the same newspaper as a political cartoonist and art director.
Suhail continues to draw, paint and exhibit while exposing abuses committed against the people of Kashmir.
Related: 126 cases worldwide