The Most Dangerous Art & Occupation ... of the CartoonistVISHAVJIT SINGH
Most jobs in the world come with some associated risks or occupational hazards. You might wonder what risks could possibly accompany the task of an editorial cartoonist?
Paper cuts? An overdose of caffeine? Extended periods of hunching over the desk to sketch your favorite or reviled characters might even realign your posture. If you are a purely computer-based cartoonist like I am, carpel tunnel syndrome or extended exposure to radiation might have long ranging impacts.
Only time will tell if I will succumb to any of these.
But there is one more risk I only became aware of after actively starting to illustrate my aspirations and frustrations in the year following 9/11.
This hazard first reared its ugly head in an online feedback form on my website where I post my cartoon creations, which I like to call Sikhtoons for obvious reasons. These cartoons focus on things Sikh.
Later, the crazies shifted to emails. Finally, in this social networking era, they spilled over into Facebook.
Threats to my life - sculpted with the help of word cut-outs - insults to my ancestry, the collective vitriol then moved on to the Sikh
community in general. Some of these messages target a single piece of work, some the entire collection. All tirades are in roman script, though the language of some is English (a bad version of it, though), some in Punjabi, some in Hindi and a few a combination of the three.
I have accepted this as part and parcel of the passionate work I engage in on a daily basis.
I have a fan base around the world whose support feeds my creative juices. Then, there are also the few who, after taking the trouble to visit my work, find depiction of the truth a little prickly, and feel compelled to channel their fears and anger into threats and taking time to pen down their demons.
Even to them I say thank you for sharing the impact of my work and motivating me even further.
All of this was brought into focus on a hot and balmy on the first day of July - two days ago! - when I opened my email inbox and saw an email without any subject. The message was terse with a flavor I had never encountered before.
“I hope you realize your inaccurate comedy, but specifically racial vilification of Hindus, can be prosecuted. See you soon.“
My comedic take does focus on the vagaries and shenanigans of the human condition. Sikhs who belch proudly about the equality of all men and women, yet abort their unborn daughters. Sikhs who bellow 'Singh is King' slogans but delve in Hindu caste practices. Sikhs who profess allegiance to the words of Guru Nanak while praying to his image in stone and paper. Sikhs who toil day and night to build careers while lacking courage to face the reality of 1984. Sikhs who love to live in mansions, travel is luxury cars but yet feel insecure enough to teach their children about the injustices of the Indian state. Sikh political leaders who have amassed power only to oversee the wholesale destruction of their constituents at the hands of alcohol, drugs, HIV/Aids and debt. Sikh religious leaders who carry the mantle of 'panthic interests' while bending over backwards to their political masters. The platoon of babas who look 'Sikh' to make sure the masses prostrate in ignorance and fear.
All of these have felt the prick of my cartoonist's pen.
However, to take advantage of the Sikh existential mess, right wing Hindu fascists have entered the stage to create their mischief. They are known by the Nazi sounding acronyms: RSS, VHP, BJP. Their continuing efforts to trans-mutate the diverse heritage of Sikh and Hindu faiths into a single tradition could keep me busy - as a satirist and a critic - for a lifetime.
Sadly, meddling with the Sikh way of life, merely because they are envious and jealous of it, appears to be their only 'dharam'. Their anarchic practice of this 'dharam' is worthy of a lesson.
Banda Singh Bahadar, their distortions say, is Veer Banda Bairagi. The Sikhs Gurus are Hindu avatars. The Khalsa was
created to merely protect the Hindu nation.
They play with words and images. They repeat this play like a mantra. Their collective prayer is the conscious realization of one fundamental lie, 'Sikhs are Hindus'.
My cartoon images do call for prosecution of countless terrorists roaming the streets of India under state protection. Of elected officials who sanctioned the murder of innocent Sikhs in cities across India. Of security forces who secured 'peace' by committing countless acts of torture and murder.
To Amrik Sohata - I doubt it that he has had the courage to sign his real name - who is the source of this latest mail, I say: comedy infused with truth is not your cup of tea. To live and breathe the right and freedoms of the American way is obviously foreign to you. Mass Killers living with impunity in India is the status quo for you. The hateful ways of right wing Indian extremists seems a god-serving ritual to you.
Whether or not you come back to view Sikhtoons or whether you continue to stew in them daily for 'comedic inaccuracies', either way, thank you for giving me renewed energy.
They also serve who ... !
July 3, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: G. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 03, 2012, 8:31 AM.
RAW and many other Indian intelligence agencies, including Indian diplomats, continuously monitor the internet and routinely post hateful, poisonous and misleading propaganda against Sikhs as part of their job. Many of them use Sikh sounding pseudonyms to justify Indian Government's genocidal policies.
2: Rupinder Kaur (Canada), July 03, 2012, 10:40 AM.
As a fan of Vishavjit Singh's Sikhtoons, I can see how his editorializing of the Sikh reality can cause concern for those who would rather keep reality hidden from the public. If he's getting attacks and threats, that only means he's doing the right thing - there is no better endorsement than that! Keep up the good work, brother.
3: Christine Kaur (Houston, Texas, U.S.A.), July 03, 2012, 12:34 PM.
Yup, I agree with Rupinder Kaur. If you have "enemies," it means you stood up for something in life. And what better cause then this to stand up for and that too so creatively. We love you and your work, Vishavjit, and we are with you!
4: Gurdip Kaur Khalsa (U.S.A.), July 03, 2012, 12:59 PM.
This is a great piece. We live in a free world but many choose not to be free.
5: Tejinder Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 03, 2012, 3:00 PM.
The carto image can produce a strong negative reaction. The reaction in itself is considered to be a "powerful" message. The message conveyed in a cartoon can indeed be a bitter pill to swallow for some as it brings out home-truths.
6: Mai Harinder Kaur (U.S.A.), July 03, 2012, 5:20 PM.
As the (now retired) author of the blog, "The Road To Khalistan," I have gotten some great hate mail. My favourite was from some anonymous guy who wanted to kidnap me and take me to India to hang me for treason, of all things. They might get me for overseas sedition or trump up some phony terrorism charge, but not treason, as I am not nor have I ever been an Indian citizen. Nor, BTW, am I a terrorist by any reasonable definition of the word. I consider the hate mail simply as evidence that I have stepped on the toes of someone whose toes needed stepping on. Carry on, Vishavit Singh ji, we are in good company. Remain in chardi kala!
7: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), July 03, 2012, 8:48 PM.
You can see this kind of hatred on any open forum on the internet whether it be Hindus leaving comments on youtube videos dedicated to Sikh shaheeds of 1984, facebook, blogs, etc. If they spent even half the energy of their hatred on improving their country, then maybe they could have some "umph" behind their hatred rather than blowing hot air. Never mind, by ensuring that the vast majority of the population remains illiterate, helpless and smashed into the ground, these Hindus can ensure that their religion is functioning the way it always has.
8: N. Singh (Canada), July 03, 2012, 9:07 PM.
Vishavjit Singh ji: I don't think these goons have any legal stance against you. If necessary seek legal advice and report any threats to the police but your freedom of speech is enshrined in the American constitution. Keep going strong, keep proud!
9: R. Singh (Canada), July 04, 2012, 12:11 AM.
Some people just use patriotism as a fig leaf to cover the gaping holes in their own kathni and karni (deeds and words). The over-the-top xenophobes who abandon the sacred land for money at the drop of a hat, seek targets to take attention away from the fact that greed reigns supreme in their world. When push comes to shove these shadowy inter-net warriors stay safe hidden in faraway lands or in cyberspace and spew gibberish into the air. Stats with regards to people who gave their lives during the struggle for independence, is a dead give away. These are dress-up nautanki braves who are more suited for ramlila stages.
10: Sukhindarpal SIngh (Penang, Malaysia), July 04, 2012, 4:48 AM.
Be brave. Be with Waheguru. Caricatures or cartoons tell a lot in a small space. Keep drawing. GuruRakha.
11: C.J. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 09, 2012, 11:38 AM.
It takes intelligence to understand satire. Cartoonists such as yourself uphold standards of witty and insightful analysis on political reality. Bravo and keep up the fantastic work!
12: Jas (New York City, USA), July 12, 2012, 5:13 PM.
Thank you for doing what you do, veerji. I hope your fountain of strength never runs dry ...