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Cartoonists know where to draw the line
Do cartoonists stand a chance to offend people? Balraj, a professional cartoonist and the winner of second position at Indian Institute of cartoonists speaks his mind out on the topic.

MEDIA OR the fourth estate is there to hold a mirror to the society in a democracy. And we cartoonists, like journalists, share the responsibility of telling the readers what’s going on around the world and in our backyard. While journalists report, comment and analyse, cartoonists draw attention to issues through humour and creativity. Cartoons are a necessary part of a vibrant and functioning democracy. Where articles take hundreds of words, cartoons can raise a question, provoke a thought in a unique and creative way with just a few lines and words.

Constitution gives cartoonists the freedom of expression but won’t absolve them of responsibility to uphold the best interests of the nation. Cartoonists have the right to comment and criticize state’s misguided policies and government malfunctions. Though, they have to know where to draw the line and self-censor beyond a point. I have always measured and weighed my words, what I say and what I draw. I have had several disagreements with my editors on many cartoons. They have overruled me many a time because they thought the cartoons touched sensitive topics. What cartoonists need is sensitivity to issues. Cartoonists are governed by the same constitution that gives every Indian the freedom of expression and right to free speech. And most of the time cartoonists do a good job in discharging their duties.

The people heading the government, i.e. leaders and politicians in power have taken oath of office to work for and towards the best interests of the nation and hence they are answerable to the people who have voted them in. People in power come into public life in order to serve the people. By choosing public life they have agreed to bring their lives into public glare. Because what they do and do not do can impact the common man immensely, it is necessary that they be open to criticism and opposing views. A democracy can only function with divergent views and ideologies. Leaders have to learn from what everybody is saying and have to carry everybody along.

Cartoonists do a great service to the people and nation by reflecting on the mood of the nation. They hold no personal grudge against any leaders in power. They are well-meaning citizens like all others. When they poke fun at any chief minister it is not because they have anything personal against him or her but they are merely highlighting the person’s lax behaviour in upholding the rule of law or commenting on working against the general good of the public. A leader is not a mere A or B but a person holding public office like a chief minister or a minister of a state. Constitution gives them privileges because he or a she is an elected representative. A leader in a democracy has to be tolerant and open to criticism. In fact being intolerant and dictatorial in a democracy can backfire badly. In this age of all pervading Internet and social networking it is impossible to stop public opinion. All the people in power can do is shoot the messenger but the message will only spread and spread like wildfire.

All the lofty ideals of freedom of expression apart, cartoonists at an individual level are nothing but mere powerless toys in hands of people in power. Most cartoonists as individuals have neither money nor power to fight the high and mighty. Their best defence when attacked is the support they can garner from fellow cartoonists, journalists and the media in general. Yet invariably cartoonists’ first and last resort is to rely on the power of freedom of expression that the constitution bestows on them.

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