Why I stand by our cartoon

Updated, 16 September, 6.30pm: It was brought to the attention of Groundviews some hours ago that despite what Mr. Jayasuriya notes below (coupled with the fact that as we flag at the end of this article, the cartoon had been deleted less than a day after it was published from the online version of the newspaper), the newspaper ran this apology in today’s edition,

Click here for online version.

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The LAKBIMAnEWS cartoon on Sunday seemed to have ruffled some feathers. Going by the tweets that were critical of the cartoon, I noticed some card-carrying activists of the anti- Sri Lankan lobby, who may have mistaken LAKBIMAnEWS for one of the Sri Lankan government mouthpieces – which LAKBIMAnEWS is not – and decided to make avail of this opportunity to go for another round of Sri Lanka bashing. That is a sad miscalculation on their part, and they would have known better, if they had happened to go through the editorial content of LAKBIMAnEWS.

To begin with, the cartoon by my colleague Hasantha Wijenayake should be treated as a matter of artistic expression. Cartoons can, sometimes, be provocative, irritating and even outrageous in the way they lampoon the powers that be. Our cartoon depicts the Indian political dynamics vis-à-vis  Sri Lanka, as viewed by our cartoonist. A cartoon could hardly cover the full range of the story. Our cartoon, in my opinion, did not cover the full scope of the Indian foreign approach towards Sri Lanka as per the Tamil question. But it covered a part of it, i.e. Tamil Nadu’s increasing belligerence towards Sri Lanka and a prime minister who appeared to be lost in this power dynamic.

Is our cartoon vulgar?  I would say, vulgarity, like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. While puritans would now be calling for our blood, for the subtle sexual connotation in the cartoon, my position was that it should not be a reason for censorship. Art should not be viewed through puritanical lenses and I do not believe that I, as the acting editor of LAKBIMAnEWS, a post I agreed to hold only until the management finds a replacement, should replicate the censor board of Sri Lanka’s film cooperation. It is a well thought out decision on my part to publish the cartoon and I stand by it.

Going by some of the initial reactions to the cartoon, I suspect that some egos might have been challenged, but our Indian colleagues should understand that Sri Lankans are also entitled to express themselves, even though sometimes such expressions could be mildly irritating, as our cartoon happened to be. A good dose of tolerance is a prerequisite for any healthy society and I have always believed that India with its flourishing free press, institutional democracy and newfound self confidence can be a beacon of hope for us in this part of world, which has recently witnessed a fresh wave of intolerance and extremism.

LAKBIMAnEWS has never been an Indian basher. Our editorial on Sunday stated that any attempt to reproach New Delhi for the rising pro-Eelam activism in South India was both flawed and counter-productive. We went further to suggest that Sri Lanka seemed to have learnt from its previous mistakes vis-à-vis  the handling of its much larger neighbour, describing it as perhaps the greatest foreign policy lesson as far as Colombo is concerned in recent times.  But sadly the reaction to the cartoon smacks of the big brother attitude that dominated Indo-Sri Lanka relations in the mid 80s.  That is the most disturbing part for me in this whole episode.

PS: Indian  political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi  was today (10) arrested and jailed on sedition charges for his drawings that mock the government and politicians. Perhaps, the outrage at our cartoon is symptomatic of a greater wave of intolerance to criticism.

[Editors note: Also read A tasteless cartoon, Twitter and Indo-Sri Lanka relations. Ranga’s article expands on two tweets published by him on Sunday evening.

 

However, as of 1600hrs on Monday, the cartoon was no longer accessible on the newspaper’s website. Where the cartoon was, there is now a large white space. Ranga’s been asked to explain why this is the case if the paper and he stand by the cartoon, and we’ll publish his response as an update to this article no sooner than we receive it.]

  • Anuk

    Ranga, a very simple way to test if your cartoon is vulgar is by replacing the characters with those close to you and asking you if you still feel the same way about it’s vulgarity?

    Treat people the way you want to be treated. If this was a lady from your own family, would you still defend it?

    If this was President Rajapaksa’s wife, would you still say vulgarity is in the eye of the beholder and continue to defend your right to share it with everyone in public.

    You have written this article because you think there’s nothing wrong with what you did.

    Please respond to these two simple questions.

    • sach

      i dont think any cartoonist would replace the characters with their family members and see whether they are vulgar or not. Asking to do so is stupid as each cartoon displays the cartoonist’s opinion on a certain political or non political incident.

    • Kshama

      Well said, Anuk and AMR.

      Ranga J,India has certainly overstepped its mark in charging Aseem Trivedi for sedition. Sorry that you are trying to equate his work with that of the Lakbimaenwes cartoon. I see no crudity or vulgarity in Trivedi’s drawings.

  • Aathavan

    Artistic expression? [Edited out – attack the issue please, not the person]…

  • veedhur

    The line between ‘subtle sexual connotation’ and vulgarity seems apparently very thin. At least from beloved Lakbima.

  • http://brainoil.wordpress.com sharanga

    “Art should not be viewed through puritanical lenses and I do not believe…

    You call this art? I have some serious questions about your taste. No Country for Old Men was art. Midnight’s Children was art. Necromancer was art. This is art too? Oh dear!

    You don’t have to resort to this nonsense to defend yourself. Simply stand by your ad, because you had something to say about this whole thing, and this was it.

    • http://brainoil.wordpress.com sharanga

      Cartoon. Not ad.

  • Ac

    A Good reply

  • Amarnath

    IF everything about the cartoon is so perfect as Ranga Jayasuriya says, WHY was it removed last evening ? Does not removing it means, Ranga also accepts it is too vulgar to be exhibited, even on his own perception of what “art” is ?
    Amarnath

  • Rontejan

    Bravo Hasantha and Ranga!

    Your Picture (Cartoon) says it all. It shows the true situation of the Tamil Nadu polity at the moment.

    [Edited out]

    Do not worry about the SriLanka bashers say about their taste and a perceived vulgarity.

    [Edited out – please substantiate with clear references allegations made about the TN Chief Minister’s public life. Lewd comments about her private life will not be entertained on this forum.]

    • Rontejan

      Hi, Ground Views guys,

      So you don’t believe me and edited out my comments.

      Pls log onto the link below and check out all the corruption of Jayalalitha, jail terms imposed on her, and how many corruption cases are pending against her.

      Add up the value of the money and jewellary found on her by the Indian Police, and your eyes will pop!

      I think you guys know all this, but edited it out purposely maybe to give the SriLanka bashers in your Blog an upper hand. Good luck to you!

      Publish the contents of the above article and whatever comments you want your readers to see in my comment if you have any sense of fairness in your Blog!

      You don’t have to love our Government, but love our Country and have the courage to stand up to SriLanka Bashers like Jayalalitha specially when their own hands are dirtier than [edited out].

      I will do more research on this woman and send it to you if you have the guts to publish it!

      http://realityviews.blogspot.jp/2011/05/short-biography-of-jayalalithaa-jayaram.html

      • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

        The issue is the cartoon and its merits, not an examination of Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister. This is some random blog you’ve flagged – we assume you’ve verified the contents and can come up with cross references? If her corruption is as terrible as you suggest, there surely must be a better public record of it, across more sites, and with more authority.

        That said, if you want to rail against corruption, then why ignore that which possibly dwarfs Jayalalitha’s – you know, for the sheer love of country and all that? The COPE reports tabled in Parliament, accessible freely online, openly implicate Sri Lankan institutions and individuals, incl. those in government, responsible for graft and waste that runs into the hundreds of millions of US dollars.

        We have yet to hear of or see any media in Sri Lanka that depicts any of those individuals in uplifted sarongs or sari’s, in the mainstream press, with citizens looking up their posterior for any hint of the wealth they’ve squandered, all the while pointing to others.

      • Rontejan

        Hey Ground Views,

        Of course the issue is the Cartoon and its ‘Merits’. And in examining it one has to comment on both the ‘merits’ and ‘Demerits’ of the person(s) depicted.

        That is exactly what I have done viz: pointing out that Jayalalitha has absolutely no moral grounds to comment on others, both in her immoral personal self and in her public life persona, of amassing unimaginable private wealth by presiding over shady deals which ensured losses of Billions of Rupees for the hapless Tamil Nadu citizens. That resulted her being convicted and further criminal cases are being heard against her.

        I find it laughable that you say that I have flagged a random blog and say “we assume you’ve verified the contents and can come up with cross references? If her corruption is as terrible as you suggest, there surely must be a better public record of it, across more sites, and with more authority.”

        Where on earth do you live GVs? Jayalalitha’s misdeeds are a matter of public record and subject of Police and Tax investigations in India. Are you telling me that you have never read any reports about her in Newspapers? I said in my earlier reply, ‘Don’t take my word for it, but check it out for yourself’. You edit that out and then ask me for verification and cross references!

        Anybody who doesn’t know about J.J.’s corruption cases and convictions in India MUST BE living in a hole somewhere without access to the world outside and to Newspapers.

        The ‘Random Blog’ I have given above gives it’s cross references as The Hindu (India), New York Times, The BBC, Wikipedia and UNI. I hope that is enough to satisfy your call for more sites with more authority. I am sure you and GV readers can do more research on those Papers online and Google to learn about the escapades of Jayalalitha and her morality. Just Google ‘Criminal Cases against Jayalalitha Jayaram’ and you can see what the cases are, and how she is manipulating to wriggle out of them. The cases were transferred out of State to Bangalore, but the appointed Special Prosecutor Mr. Acharya resigned recently quoting ‘enormous pressure to resign’.

        Having said all that, referring to your second para, all you say is true. There is enormous corruption everywhere, but few to talk about it. I have seen a handful of cartoons depicting it mainly in The Island and Daily Mirror/Times newspapers, with only half the sarongs lifted! COPE reports come and go, have been for a few decades. Elections come and go and we vote our kind of ‘Jayalalithas’ of two colours with similiar agendas (pre and post election) to office. I don’t ignore it, I speak about it virtually every time we have conversations. I will most probably never vote again. The rural people seem not bothered very much, what with the small plot for cultivation and a bike to ride and subsidies. Most of the middle class is de-sensitized.

        Why did Wijedasa Rajapakshe cross over to the Opposition without staying put and shaming the robbers in the Govt. with every speech he makes? Now he is almost voiceless; only losers run away.

        The main thrust of my argument was to show that Jayalalitha has no moral standing in her country or ours to go railing against us.

        Actually we can learn a lot from Indians on putting up a united front. They politically ‘kill’ each other at home, but unite and speak in one voice when challenged by outsiders. No ‘NGO’s travel abroad to villify their own country in the guise of attacking the incumbent govt. All their infighting is done in-country, albeit with much more venom.

        Our NGOs mix up truths and lies and take it abroad, further hardening the mindset of the Governing types.

        There are no truly ‘Independent’ Newspapers or Websites/Blogs anywhere in the world; all are controlled by the owners, editors and/or coloured by the preferences of the writers. I travel abroad very often and have seen it all the time. The ‘real’ independents are forced out after a while. This is true of both autocratic and ‘Democratic’ countries. The only seemingly Independent mainstream press I think exists in the Scandinavian countries, even then a very few.

        It was heartening to see the Civil Society taking to streets in their thousands to support the FUTA. Don’t you think it will have a better effect if they (and us) do the same against corruption and breakdown of Law and Order ,leaving out those tarnished by ragging and destroying the Uni education-I mean those controlled by the JVP-not all FUTA and Uni students. We should have the guts to keep the IUSF out of all agitations, since ordinary people will never join knowing the ulterior motives of the IUSF and assorted extreme Leftists.

        • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

          “I will most probably never vote again.” Know many who would be deeply angered by that one sentence, for if you don’t care enough to vote, and affect change, then you can’t propose it beyond oneself? But recognise where you are coming from, and why there is so much of apathy around those in power who as Sunil from the Gypsies said recently, are putting entertainers out of business.

          As for J’s misdeeds, a blog post referencing other sources isn’t enough. Is there the equivalent of COPE? Are the case details mentioned in the blog post available online, from the TN govt sites (not unlike some case records from SL’s Supreme Court, which are online)? What are the original sources used in the blog post? The burden of proof when making a submission, no matter how believable it is, is on you. Accurate web sourcing is the bane of mainstream media in SL, and this is just to encourage you to be better than most.

      • Hewa

        @ Rontejan
        Bravo !!. Wherever you are from and whoever you are, you have given fitting replies to Groundviews.The cartoon is all about Jayalalitha and her knee-jerk acts/reactions to ” safeguard” her Tamil breathen. And it is against these same Tamil people that Amma seem to have commited these endless faruds.Groundviews is trying to deflect this issue in the replies they have given, but facts are stubborn and there is No Smoke without a Fire.
        It is one thing to claim ( and make merry hell) that a cartoon is vulgar even if it is not vulgar, but a totally different thing to train and equip, and harbor a terrorist outfit like the LTTE to harm a democratically elected Government of a neighbor. And this is exactly what J and her ardent supporters did for which all the Sri Lankans including our Tamil brothers and sisters had to pay over the last 25 years. This woman is now trying to pour petrol on this fire which was extinguished a few years. Please please….. stay away (rather than trying to start another war which could send Sri Lanka many years back) and try to spend the twilight years of your life to do something better.

      • Rontejan

        Hey GVs,

        I said, “I will most probably never vote again.”.

        Whom are you going to vote for GVs? Come election time we get two hugely long lists from the two most corrupted main Parties asking for our vote. Don’t forget, we first have to vote for the Party before selecting our preferences. We can vote for uncorrupted ones of the list, but they never get elected, ‘cos the ones who put up the most number of posters with ill gotten money are the ones who get most of the votes. So why should I waste my vote and my time? You tell me, how many times have our voters elected a list of honest candidates in the past 30-35 years?

        And you said, ‘As for J’s misdeeds, a blog post referencing other sources isn’t enough. Is there the equivalent of COPE? Are the case details mentioned in the blog post available online, from the TN govt sites (not unlike some case records from SL’s Supreme Court, which are online)? What are the original sources used in the blog post? The burden of proof when making a submission, no matter how believable it is, is on you. Accurate web sourcing is the bane of mainstream media in SL, and this is just to encourage you to be better than most.’

        I see that you are still living in the same hole GVs. Why don’t you do our own research for a change, to find out, from the sources you mentioned. I have done mine. You will also find out that sometimes, the Indian Police is fearless in chasing behind the high and mighty to uncover corruption and other misdeeds. But most of the time they fail in the end, as the Powerful ones wriggle out. Jayalalitha getting rid of the Special Prosecutor appointed by the Chief Justice himself is a case in point. Bofors and Telecom scandals also come to mind. Its long list and you will enjoy reading them if you know where to look, without asking me!

        Its better if you can have a REPLY line below your comments so that we can reply to you direct, without my replies going under my own posts.

        And Hewa, Thank You!

  • AMR

    The lampooning of politicians and the policies they initiate is, of course, part of a functioning system, and if you know your Aristophanes, the best method of balancing demagoguery. Political satire is an important representative of the serious political dialogue of dissent; it is social protest. What the Lakbima cartoon does not exhibit, I think, is satire’s relationship to a highly rhetorical and moral form of art. Yes, the ridiculing of a political figure will lead the artist into the realm of exaggeration and therefore, ‘artistic expression’, but does that mean reducing said figure to his/her biological identifier? Why is the Lakbima cartoon offensive? I think it is because it crosses the line between satire and hate speech.

  • Citizen

    This cartoon is vulgar and mirrors the poor taste of the creator. Artistic expression is beautiful not vulgar. An artist transfers his thoughts and feelings on to paper. The impression given by this cartoon is fit for the toilet. Maybe it should adorn the walls of our public toilets.

  • Bedrock Barney

    The cartoon in question depicts artist’s take, on nature of the relationship between Tamil Nadu and the central government vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan national question. It is indeed a complex and multifaceted relationship. The cartoon depicts just one small aspect of this. Yet to many Sri lankans (including this one) there is a nagging truism about the cartoon.
    In an era where schoolboy soccer teams become pawns in politics and pilgrims are attacked because the attackers forgot to check the ethnicity of these pilgrims, the thresholds of vulgarity seem undefined. Some who have commented here are clearly aware of the exact boundaries. This is a good thing, at least someone knows. Now, if only they can enlighten the political leadership of Tamil Nadu, it would be step in the right direction. That! is inherently dangerous, so it is safer to go after Ranga Jayasuriya. Politics remain Politics.

  • srinath.gunaratne

    This is the slap in the face Manmohan govt need to wake up, I think the cartoon has sent the message to the top. This should be nominated for awards. Respect the freedom of speech.

    What is vulgar is training a terror outfit to kill 60,000 of Sri Lankans and destroying our economy for 30 years.

  • alex f

    There was a good question at the top of this list of comments. Would this cartoon have been published if the lady depicted was the president’s wife? Hmmm … white van time I suspect. Self censorship and selective freedoms are the best journalism in sri lanka can aspire to.

  • paul

    The only thing i see in this cartoon is the cartoonist’s attempt to show how the Central Government is ‘brown nosing’ Jayalalitha at the expense of innocent Sri Lankan pilgrims and school kids. What’s this sudden prudishness and wringing of hands going to accomplish?

  • citizen

    this cartoon well expresses how indian central govt act these days.

  • http://google Jasmin

    How would you like if Jyalalitha is replaced by [edited out] Duminda Silva and Indian head of state Dr. Manmohan Singh, replaced by SL head of state?

    This our culture; nude parades of Wanni, Pahalagama thero’s child abuse, child rape, killer monks, politicos & citizens……

  • Rontejan

    Anuk said,

    ‘Ranga, a very simple way to test if your cartoon is vulgar is by replacing the characters with those close to you and asking you if you still feel the same way about it’s vulgarity?

    Treat people the way you want to be treated. If this was a lady from your own family, would you still defend it?

    If this was President Rajapaksa’s wife, would you still say vulgarity is in the eye of the beholder and continue to defend your right to share it with everyone in public.’

    Alexf said,

    ‘There was a good question at the top of this list of comments. Would this cartoon have been published if the lady depicted was the president’s wife? Hmmm … white van time I suspect.’

    I gave a reply to both above. What I asked was, whether you like to replace your loved ones in your photograph(album)s with Jayalalitha’s photos. The Super GVs edited that out too! Saying something about lewd comment-lumping everything I said together.