How many of us remember the news last year about self-styled godman Asaram Bapu sexually abusing a minor on the pretext of exorcising her from evil spirits? Media was buzzing with this news. Most of us who heard about it shook our heads in disgust, made an angry remark or two and moved on. But for one person who read the news – a young, independent, working woman from Lucknow – this was the last straw.
She went to her desk, picked up her colours and furiously sketched. That’s how 33-year-old cartoonist Kanika Mishra got provoked into creating Karnika Kahen, an ‘aam ladki‘ (female equivalent of the common man) who fights social injustice. Karnika Kahen debuted on Facebook on 31 August 2013.
Asaram had been involved in several controversies, including his remarks on the 2012 Delhi gang rape – that the victim was equally guilty along with her rapists because she failed to appeal to their brotherly instincts. That coupled with the case of sexual assault on a minor goaded Kanika Mishra into doing something about it. The only way she knew how to express her anger was through her cartoon series, Karnika Kahen.
“Within a week, IndiaToday and Aaj Tak picked up my cartoons and published a story with my interview. The editor didn’t publish the cartoons with my name and ony used the name of the character in the article , maybe because she already saw what was coming next,” Kanika told YourStory from her home in Mumbai.
Soon after she had started posting Karnika Kahen cartoons on Facebook and Twitter, Asaram followers and internet trolls had begun to heap abuse on her. The media coverage fuelled their anger further. “They started coming in hordes and abusing me. I have not heard or read such filthy language before in my life. They told that they would give me the same treatment which Nirbhaya (Delhi gang rape victim) faced. They also started making derogatory cartoons about me,” Kanika recalls.
Death threats were next. Her email and Facebook accounts were hacked, photographs were stolen and distributed. “I was very scared. For months. I didn’t come out of my home. I was so afraid that I was not able to sleep.” But her resolve to sketch and publish more Karnika cartoons wasn’t shaken.
The voice of a woman
While trolls were trying to scare Kanika into quitting, countless girls and women from different nooks of India were writing to her, applauding her courageous stand and thanking her for inspiring them to stand up for their rights. “Aap humko himmat de rahe hai (You are making us brave),” they wrote to her. Those messages kept her going. She filed a complaint with the Mumbai Cyber Crime Cell, Women’s Commission and the local police station. And continued to “make cartoons on Asaram until his blind followers got tired and stopped threatening me.”
What makes Kanika different from the millions of Indian women who bottle up their outrage and suffer injustice in silence? “We hear a lot about ‘aam aadmi‘ (common man). Why not ‘aam ladki‘ or ‘aam aurat’? Maybe, most women do not yet feel confident enough to voice their opinions aloud,” says Kanika. That could have been one of the reasons that stopped Kanika too from pursuing her passion to be a cartoonist, before what Asaram did brought her back to it.
Kanika was born and brought up in Lucknow. Even before she completed her Bachelors and Masters in Fine Arts from Lucknow College of Arts, she started working on a comic strip for children for a newspaper “Swatantra Bharat”. After MFA, she moved to Delhi to learn animation. There, she worked with several media houses as a graphic designer.
Then, the startup bug bit
After she got married, she moved with her husband to Mumbai. Here, she worked with Tinkle magazine under Anant Pai, Dimdima of Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan and also on Tenali Raman comics with Luis Fernandes.
With years of work experience behind her, she and husband decided to startup. They launched Gesture Graphics & Development, an animation and graphics company in Mumbai a few years ago. Animations, movies and videos, mobile content, flash presentations, Twitter backgrounds, logos, product- models and so on were what Kanika was immersed in until Karnika was born last year.
“I don’t see any representation of a girl’s voice in Indian cartoons. We have many famous male cartoonists, but not one female cartoonist in the mainstream. It shows that women are still not considered mature enough to make a political or social comment, at least in the world of cartoons. I want to change that. I feel that a woman cartoonist can raise issues concerned to females in a better way. It is not just about talking on issues related to women but it is also about representing the voice of Indian women on social and political issues,” Kanika says.
Currently, with Asaram and his son languishing in jail, she feels their fanatic followers have quietened down. “But they are still using my cartoon character and running a fake Facebook page in my name. The number of threats went down gradually but I still receive calls from unknown numbers, which I generally don’t pick.”
Despite the circumstances of her birth, Karnika gave wings to her creator Kanika’s passion for cartoons and social commentary. Kanika is now determined to “fly high in the world of cartoons”.
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