“If they have used them just for visual relief to the page, then the whole idea of using a cartoon is lost”

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Keshav, Cartoonist for The Hindu

How do you read this flashpoint and behaviour of Parliamentarians across party lines? 
The Parliamentarians’ target was the Ambedkar cartoon. Unfortunately, other cartoons were caught in the crossfire. The idea was to further their interests in caste and vote bank politics. It is sad that no reasoning was possible in the given circumstances.

Do you see this as an isolated incident or as another crackdown on the freedom of expression?
There is no intention to gag the press. They wanted to make a point to their target audience, their political constituencies, and they used Parliament to their maximum advantage. With the media coverage and 24×7 television, they certainly made the point effectively.

Why has our public discourse become petulant and grown intolerant over the ages?
An overexposure of politics [and politicians] in the visual media has had a tremendous impact. And the tendency of the media to sensationalise issues, has had a devastating effect.

Can you recall better times, when public figures especially politicians, were more tolerant?
Until the Emergency was declared in 1975, there was no such intolerance for criticism. This is the impression which I got when speaking to veteran cartoonists like Abu, Laxman, OV Vijayan, Sudhir Dhar and Kutty. I began cartooning in the late 80s.

Are our textbooks in danger of turning into a monochromatic discourse showing leaders only as heroes?
No. There is nothing wrong with explaining things in just words. Science, and humanities texts had illustrations. That has been the way all along. In this digital age, the present generation seems to respond better to visual communication.

Is a cartoon even capable of “poisoning” schoolchildren’s minds?
Yes. Visuals can be really harmful if not used with care. A visual can stay in memory much longer and does create an indelible impression. We need to be careful, especially when translating phrases etc into visuals. And also when using religious symbols to make a point.

What is the ideal atmosphere for education? How do we leave room for question and reason?
Nowadays schools are using audio visual media, and there are social media networks which are a major influence amongst the present generation. Text books are not the only source for the children in the cities. But in rural areas, where access to information is not easy, text books really matter.

Karuna John is Associate Editor, Tehelka.com.
[email protected]

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