By Malinda Seneviratne -
The most recent attack on Sri Lankans visiting Tamil Nadu were roundly condemned by all, except of course the Indian Government which issued a watered-down comment along with the soft dismissal, “‘Law and Order’ is not a Central Government subject”. The response from this end has been naturally dismay (at the soft end) and outrage (at the hard end).
A newspaper (not a Rivira publication) carried a cartoon which spoke to Delhi’s prerogatives, insinuating that the ruling party, led by Dr. Manmohan Singh was compromising bilateral relations by pandering to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa’s whims and fancies, i.e. her vote-concerned rabble-rousing. That is only half the truth because it takes two to tango and Jayalalithaa needs Singh just as much as Singh needs her, so when it suits the Congress Party, as it did during the last General Election, the regional ally can be gagged. In this instance, Delhi’s shy-making indicates that Jayalalithaa is not acting alone, but with the tacit consent of Delhi.
The cartoon was graphic and, according to many, utterly distasteful. The newspaper has pleaded ‘Freedom of expression’. The same sentiments could have been expressed (and indeed have been expressed in cartoons and commentary) in better and more palatable ways. An apology would go a long way in setting things right, one would think.
What’s funny about the whole thing is that all of a sudden we have people shedding copious tears about lack of taste and some (un)intended insult to womankind but absolute silence on what actually provoked the sentiments expressed in the cartoon. Feminists who have not raised a whimper about these thugs attacking buses in which female pilgrims were travelling after having abused them in word and deed , have all of a sudden found voice to object to an ill mix of line and color. If one is upset about sexism and gross crudity, one cannot be selective about it, and moreover, one should have a sense of proportion! Some have, one notices, even demanded that the editor of the newspaper resign!
Many have commented on the controversial cartoon in the website ‘Groundviews’ , which opened up a debate with a note titled ‘A tasteless cartoon, Twitter and Indo-Sri Lanka relations’. The main article, referring to a tweet by the President’s spokesperson Bandula Jayasekera, says ‘The tweet does not endorse the cartoon, but stops short of an apology over its hugely offensive nature’.
Now this is hilarious. Why should either Jayasekera or the President ‘apologize’ for something neither of them did? Does Manmohan Singh apologize for all the sexist, crude and otherwise obnoxious expressions in the Indian media? What rot!
Random tweets from various sources are reproduced to make a tweet-mountain of a toon-molehill. The title itself elevates the opinion of a single cartoonist (sanctioned for whatever reason by his editor) to something that could have an impact on Indo-Lanka relations. If that cartoon and cartoonist had that power, then we wouldn’t need diplomats and external affairs ministries, for all that would take for countries to declare war on one another would be a crude-minded artist and an editor whose vigilance has slipped.
Let’s get some perspective here.
If Indo-Lanka relations are bad, the primary culprit is Delhi. From arming, funding and training terrorists to complicity in upping the chauvinistic ante in Tamil Nadu to the machinations in Geneva and being a pound-of-flesh friend, Delhi has been fouling the diplomatic air for a long, long time.
So, berate cartoon, cartoonist and editor if it pleases and as they deserve, but keep molehill as molehill. That’s part of responsible citizen journalism, one would think.