Over the last few weeks, cartoonist Nituparna Rajbongshi has been facing a huge backlash over his set of cartoons. The Assam based political cartoonist, in his recent work on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, depicted the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in a nude caricature. The cartoon showed Sonwal holding a Hindu Bangladeshi on one hand and a native Assamese being clinched on the other hand. His work of art opposed the bill recently passed in Lok Sabha.
The state of Assam has witnessed huge protests against the Bill in the last few weeks. The Assam government’s step to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is also facing criticism by civil society members, students and political groups. In solidarity with the natives and their protest, Rajbongshi published a series of cartoons on his social media account and his personal blog. His cartoons have created unrest amongst the Right-wing groups and he has been attacked on social media ever since. After a mass complaint registered by the right wing groups across the state his cartoons were deleted by Twitter. The cartoonist received an email from Twitter for “violating” the rules. The artist has also been issued a warning by Twitter and asked not to post more such content, the consequence of which will be the permanent removal of his account.
Speaking to the Indian Cultural Forum, Rajbongshi said, “Creative actions can influence a lot of people. Those in power will try to silence people by any means because a cartoon can have a great impact on the conscience of the people. People came out in support, the moment people attacked the cartoons and it was mass reported to Twitter. Soon after, the trolling started. These cartoons or any other art form —be it a drama or movie or painting or any other form of art— can influence people in the most effective way; it is the voice of the masses. As this is the voice of the masses, these people always try to suppress these views as they help in questioning the reality.”
The Bharatiya Jananta Yuva Moracha, a youth wing of BJP in Tinsukia district in Assam, has also registered an FIR against the person who shared Rajbongshi’s cartoon on his social media page. On January 10, sedition cases were also filed against known public intellectuals Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi and Manjit Mahanta in Assam for protesting and speaking out against the bill.
The Cartoonists Rights Network, International has also extended its support to Rajbongshi.
Rajbongshi also said that the attacks are not going to stop him from drawing his cartoons and that the question of stopping doesn’t exist even if they try to supress his voice or attack him, because he feels that cartoons are the voice of the masses.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on December 8, 2019. The bill seeks to amend the existing Citizenship Act (1955). Minorities (read: non-Muslim migrants) from neighbouring countries namely, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, can apply for citizenship via relaxed norms compared to the existing ones. The cut-off date for accepting non-Muslim migrants is going to be 2014. Problem arises because the bill is conflicting with the Assam Accord of 1985, according to which, any person who came to Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, is identified as a foreigner. People in Assam are calling this as an unconstitutional move that violates the principles of citizenship as embedded in the Constitution of India. The fear in Assam and several indigenous communities in the North-East is that it would lead to grave demographic changes. Furthermore, it tries to amend the citizenship laws of India based on religion.