“World population: India overtakes China.” On April 22, this news inspired the theme of the weekly cartoon I’ve been publishing since 2018 in a German magazine Der Spiegel. I represent a packed and happy Indian clunker speeding through a dreary Chinese TGV. bad luck! My train collided with several sacred cows: India’s nationalist pride, bitter rivalry with China, and the railroad’s position in the national soul.
The day after publication, a senior adviser to India’s Minister of Information lit the fuse on Twitter: “Hey Germany, this is so racist!” The Minister of Electronics and Information Technology followed suit, as did the vice president of the nationalist BJP party, who proposed that Spiegel rename itself “racist trolls”.
Social networks are on fire, my Twitter feed is exploding: “Dirty Nazi Germany”, “You mean the train? Here he is…” (photographs of Auschwitz), in short, the entire iconographic set IIIe Reich went through with it, until a good detective discovered that I was born in Pakistan! I let you imagine the real explosion that followed…
For two weeks, the affair captured the attention of the Indian media – a television star devoted her column to explaining why this image was indeed racist – as well as the international press. Most newspapers content themselves with delivering invective, in the odd form of journalism that resembles a “retweet”, with the exception of media like Guardian, BBC or CNN, who do their job and provide some perspective. Questioned by television, the German ambassador in India announced the image “unfunny and inappropriate” and the effort that in terms of transportation India is ahead of Germany (not seeming to understand that railways, in this picture, are just a metaphor of economic disparity). The Russian channel RT Television added fuel to the fire, seeing it as a colonialist insult to the West, and created micro-pavements on the streets of Delhi.
All this mess to draw? That’s because the image undermines official propaganda. As Ita Mehrotra, a young Indian comic book writer points out: “Overcrowded trains are a cliché, but true to the reality that most people experience. This representation made the Modi government react as it contradicts the ideal image The ‘shining India’ was built from scratch for a fewmany years.” (A month after the storm, on June 2, a horrific train crash in Odisha, in the east of the country, caused nearly 300 deaths and at least 1,100 injuries.)
I had met Ita Mehrotra and several other Indian artists in April 2022, during a virtual panel devoted to drawing as a vector for social change – four years earlier, I had been able to take the country’s creative pulse during lecture tours in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Bombay. At the peak of the controversy, I contacted Ita again to get her feelings. Finally, he wrote to me, it’s not so bad that such a controversy happened, it was an opportunity for it “explains about young artists being slowly silenced in India”. Great idea, let’s talk about it!
Once upon a time there was freedom for caricatures
Since this overreaction orchestrated by Indian powers is symptomatic of the authoritarian shift of Narendra Modi, who became Prime Minister of the Union of India in 2014. Coming from the RSS, a right-wing group often described as “paramilitary”, Modi barely felt it. critical and lacks a very prono sense of humor
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