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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Communal Vs Secular Comics: Amar Chitra Katha & other children's comic strips in India


You may laugh at the mere mention of 'communal comics'. But cartoons and comics are to be taken seriously as they play an important role in shaping the minds of children.

I was reading Tehelka's last issue where Nisha Susan did a review of Delhi-based academician Nandini Chandra's book 'The Classic popular: Amar Chitra Katha', when I thought of writing a post. And that's not the only book on this subject*.

In her book Chandra writes that Uncle Pai remains an avuncular man with a sincere interest in education but the ideological underpinnings of ACK bear much closer scrutiny. In her book Chandra writes that the comics conflated the Hindu with the national ...and that the comics combine relatively innoncuous text with far more troubling visuals like the bearded Muslim and the dark-skinned persons in the majority of 600-odd titles...

Now my own thoughts on this:

Firstly, I did read a few Amar Chitra Katha comics in my childhood. And I have absolutely no problem with a publisher only printing comics on Hindu culture, as I grew up as much on Khilauna (Urdu) and Champak, as much as Nandan, which focused on Hindu mythology.

I loved Nandan and I owe a lot to these magazine. It was Nandan that introduced me to the fascinating Hindu mythology. Nandan chiefly borrowed from Hinduism and avoided Islam but there was nothing that would unsettle a Muslim kid let alone offend his sensibilities.

Similarly, Chandamama, which I loved, was also a magazine that focused on Hindu mythology and the stories of Hindu gods abound. And it was brilliant. On the pages of Nandan and Chandamama, I discovered the world of Rishis, Vidyadhars, Kapaliks, Asuras et al.

Naturally it is wrong to expect that every thing in India would be straight out of Manmohan Desai's Bollywood idealism where in every story you would also find a Muslim and Sikh or Christian.

Even if there is no Muslim character or stories focusing on Islamic festivals, you can't fault the comics or the kids' magazines but what is certainly wrong is depicting a community in wrong light and doing that cleverly.

Of course, I remember that as a kid I did feel a sense of loss ['not exactly belonging the way'] when there were special issues on Diwali and Holi in all children's magazine and not even a story on Id, let alone a congratulatory message 'PaathakoN ko shubhkaamna.

There are a few exceptions, a couple of stories on Ramzan and Id in my 12-years of files of Champak. But I am pretty okay with that. Apart from Champak, Nandan, Chanda Mama, there were Kutkut, Parag, Bal Bharti, Balak and a host of other magazines.

The rest of the Comic world was quite secular though. In the 80s, there was the terrific Ram-Rahim Double Secret Agent series and the Rajan Iqbal series in comics apart from Rajan-Iqbal pocket books. Pran's world of Chacha Chaudhary, Billu, Raman, Pinky and others apart from Ankur, were all secular.

Even in Lambu Motu and Fauladi Singh series, the artists like Jugal Kishore, ensured that whenever religion was mentioned, there was a display of all four symbols. Not everybody can realise how good you feel unless you belong to a minority, at these apparently small things.

But that's the reason I remember Jugal Kishore and the writer, Ashwini alias Ashu. These artists gave the feeling that you belonged. That you were not absolutely out. In the Western countries, an effort is made to ensure that comics don't give the impression that a particular race or religion is shown in poor light.

So when we used to get books and comics from the neighbourhood library where they were available from 25 paise to 50 paise (later Re 1), Diamond Comics was the first choice for me, followed by Manoj, Indrajal and then Prabhat, Tulsi and others.

After reading the above mentioned article, I thought and suddenly realised that I hardly ever rented an Amar Chitra Katha, which of course I read if I found it at a friend's place. Why?

The foremost reason was that I was well acquainted with Hindu mythology due to children's magazines and in the ACK only there was art, less of text.

Apart from them there were historical figures, which didn't interest me naturally at that age. But I do remember that a couple of times I felt that they didn't draw Muslim characters properly. Often, the jaws and the facial expressions of these characters and their aggressive posture gave a negative shade.

I clearly remember that Diamond Comics' famous comic 'Mama Bhanja aur Mughal Khandan' had the Mama telling the Bhatija the illustrated story of Mughals but there was objetivity and not a faint communal tinge.

It was of course history and whatever wrong kings like Aurangzeb did was depicted just like the feats of others. But no hints, no sly suggestions, no dark portrayals or generalization. So that was the difference.

No wonder, now I find, that out of 500-odd ACKs, there were hardly five or six on Muslims, that too because they felt their ideology was getting too obvious. So you have a Razia Sultana, an Akbar, Jehangir, Shahjehan and an usual choice Balban. May be a few others.

Even by RSS standards, there were many who can easily qualify and there are many Muslim heroes. At least, Rahim, Jaisi, Ashfaqullah Khan, Havildar Abdul Hamid etc. Even by normal standards the list can be quite long from Amir Khusro to Abul Kalam Azad and Abdul Ghaffar Khan or say a Ghalib, but none of them could ever make it to Amar Chitra Katha.

On a level, you feel it's better to ignore such things. But the subtly work! I found that there are other researchers who felt the same. Just like the TV serials--Ramayana and Mahabharata, that were in a way responsible for the impetus to the BJP's Ram Mandir movement, these comics also perhaps conditioned the minds of urban kids and teens who were living in Nehruvian era of 60s to usher them to a new commual era of 70s and 80s, where Muslim was suddenly the aggressive creature.

Now coming to another book. Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia*. The writers Lawrence A Babb and Susan Wadley say, "In the Makers of Modern India series, there are no Maulana Azad, Asaf Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan or Dr Zakir Husain..."

But is that surprising that till very late there was no issue for Gandhi, but yes, one devoted to VD Savarkar. He further writes, "Anand Math is full of anti-Muslim sentiments where revolutionaries look forward to the day when they will break the mosque and raise the temple of Radha Madhav in its place and yet this novel is featured quite early in the series".

Was Sangh ideology at work, cleverly giving the message that the Muslims are the bad people?

"In Amar Chitra Katha (86) featuring the novel Anand Math, the heroic Hindu Bengali freedom fighters do battle with the evil British officers who command highly stylized but Muslim-looking troops!".....Strange isn't it!


Ye manzilen !! said...

What is the circulation of these comics?

I bet the trend will show a healthy decline......nature of whats to come...

Sandeep Monga said...

Dear Indscribe,I read your post & I am not sure whether Amar Chitra Katha were communal in nature.I have read them in my childhood & I never felt them against muslims & as a child it never entered in my mind while reading them that they showed the army of the British as muslims.I am sure that as you wrote you also never felt like that.Look people can interpret anything in their own way but that does not mean they are right.People can find any meaning in anything just to grab attention.Chandamama was published from South & they were catering to middle class hindu but they also never published anything anti muslim & you also agree with it.These comics are part of almost every indian's childhood & here the religion does not come into picture.In sunday's Indian Express an NRI Amin jaffer, born in Rawanda, a second generation Indian in seventies,talks about Amar Chitra Katha & calls them a bond between him & India.He works at the Christie's & still loves them.What I mean is none of the books & comics you mentioned were or are communal.

indscribe said...

Ye Manzilen, there were sold a lot in the past. They still sell..

Sandeep bhai,
Ya, I read the story in Indian Express story on Amin Jaffer, and felt like mentioning him also.

Vinod Khare said...

A VERY good post. Thanks for sharing.

Are you interested in comics in general? I'm a great lover of comics in general and have a deep interest in Indian comics too.

Ankush said...

search for discrimination, oppression, alienation blah blah and am sure you would find it wherever you want...

Regarding Chandamama, almost every issue had one story from the Arabina Nights and am sure that those characters were not Hindus

Regarding Amar Chitra Katha...yaar, they published Historicals...Now, they cannot rewrite History on the lines of Romilas & habibs of the world to present Alaudding Khilji attacking Chittor for Chittor's own good

Grow up..Accept that Turks, Afghans, Mongols & Arabs were invaders who were driven by lust of gold and zeal of Islam and that they committed untold miseries on the Indian Populace..Its history, doesn't make a diff now...accept it and move ahead...Denial wont do good to anyone...

indscribe said...

Ankush Sahab,
That's not the way to look at history. Kings who were born here and died here don't become invaders and outsiders just because they were Muslim or their ancestors came from foreign land.

Secondly, when a Mughal emperor attacked a Rajput principality, it doesn't become a Muslim assault on Hindu state, rather they were just like Akbar's attack on Ahmed Nagar (Chand Bibi) or Aurangzeb's fight against Golconda and Bijapur which were Muslim states.

Nizam allied to British and so did the Marathas. But Tipu fought against British. Still, some of your friends may not feel that Tipu was a great patriot just because he was a Muslim.

History is not a subject that is treated this way. There were innumerable Hindu plunderers and as many Muslims.

Just read medieval history properly and you will find such examples that will leave you stunned.

There was not a shred of communalism. Wasn't Jai Singh fighting on behalf of Aurangzeb against Shivaji and also, Shivaji, having Muslim generals?

And much before that who fought Babar? Do you have any idea? You may simply name Rana Sanga but forget that it was Hasan Khan Mewati who fought along with his Mew Rajput army and died....

British did succeed in creating a communal wedge among Hindus and Muslims and putting it in their heads that the communities were natural enemies.....

likhne ko bohat kuchh hai...

But each time a guy indoctrinated by the same propaganda and I have to present the facts, as if it's my duty to prove that to everybody....

Ankush said...

Bhai Sahab

Have read your comments with interest.

If you re-read them, you will find that you have answered your query yourself

Muslim invaders have been shown with harsh features for they were invaders. Same has been the treatment of Hindu tyrants, be it a Kansa, a Jaichand or a Raghav Chetan

I do not know how much history you have read. Only, from your comments can make a guess that are more aware than an average Indian.

Thank you for your suggestion of reading medieval history. I belive that I am much aware though certainly knowledge can never be much

Regarding your assertions, Babur was indeed a foreigner, an invader in India. While he defeated a Muslim king first, his battle against Sanga was a Jihad against infidels where he gave up wine to boost morale of his troops

While factually, Tipu did fight against the British, this does not wash away his numerous atrocities against his Hindu subjects

Regarding Jai Singh in Aurangzeb's army...the British ruled India only with help from Indians. Does it show that the Indians loved and adored British and that they were our own

The point I am reiterating is that those races were barbarians & invaders, very much like the Kushans, Huns and Scithians. Only, let not that fact come in way of National assimilation. We are not responsible for what happened in the past. We need not identify so much with some figures that we feel that wrongs committed by them should be negated. There is nothing such as a Kushan or a Hun community today, nor is there any ill will towards them. So, why should there be a seperate thought process for the Muslims. Identify with the country, its people and you won't feel alienated

Coming back to the comics blog...I was particularly stunned by the piece on Anand Math. I've read the book and in the entire book, there is one single line which says..we will destroy the mosque and build a temple of Radha Madhab..

The book outlines the struggle against a tyrant nawab...not Muslims. Their enemies were Muslim troops, not British for they actually welcomed the British

The comic holds true to the novel narrative

Anyways, the arguments can go on and on. I am in complete agreement with your statement on indoctrinated minds so don't see any result in wasting more breath

Anser Azim said...

I was just wondering what kind of Bharat was before the so called Turks, Mughals, Afghans and Arabs came to this country? Mongols did come to our country and plundered and left like the Britishers. Were the boundaries defined as they are today? Was there a national language and constitution? Was the
birth,nationality and death act inacted in those times? How it was decided who is an Indian and who is not in those days? Some of these questions might help to answer some of Ankush questions? I hope he is not a Dalit otherwise
he should not ask these questions.

PS: You have taken a herculian task
to defend your religion and culture
in this polorized India!!! This reminds me the lines written on the arm of young Amitabh Bachan in Deewar: "Tera baap Chor hai". Though his father was an honest man but the mob (sangh Parivar) eventually kills his dad. But the young soul lives with that Scar all through his life. Some of these stories that have been engraved on the minds of young Indian minds without an iota of truth are the reasons behind this kind of nafrat and hate. The contribution that Muslims have made to this country should not be forgotten from the days of Akbar to till today. Some may not have been good leaders but we have seen many failed leaders like Modis,Togadias , Bajpais,Indira etc in our life time.

indscribe said...

Ankush Sahab,

The version of history where Tipu becomes a tyrant, is the same which makes Vir Savarkar a great hero but forgets to mention Sher Ali, another prisoner in Kala Pani, even n a footnote though he is only person who killed a British viceroy.

Anand Math is a communal novel. No doubt about that. However, it was the authors' note which I mentioned in the post. And I clearly said that I have nothing against anybody who publishes comics or books on the heroes of their choice. Everybody is free.

aslam saiyad said...

adnan bhai

thanks for posting info on shagufa and noor monthlies. i have already sent dd to suubsccibe shagufa..will be sening for noor. even i want my child to grow reading good books also in urdu ..his 1 n half year now..

are you planing write something on arif iqbal he is publishing urdu book review from delhi .
he is also ding commendable job..


Hyderabadi said...

Thanks for a good post indscribe. Ofcourse I did also luv to read comics in my childhood like Chacha chaudhry, Phantom, Bahadur as well as Superman/Batman series of Dalton Comics. These books are still present in my private library at my hometown.
I was addicted to children's magazine "Target" & I did yearly send him the subscription fee after collecting my "Eidi".
Even today I didn't forget one issue which arose a controversy as in a cartoon story, "Quran" was shown near the feet of a king. After a huge objection by the readers, Chief Editor himself apologized on the front page of next issue. That was the then "India", a secular & a broad-minded India !!
& indscribe, I wonder how u describe "Aurangzeb" as a "wrong king"?? I wont amazed if someone from RSS mind said this. But ... but u have to be careful & should go through both "versions" of the history !!

indscribe said...

Dear Hyderabadi Sahab,

Yes, what's wrong in saying that? An emperor or for that matter any leader makes good decisions and also takes some wrong steps.

Should only positive things be highlighted and negative aspects just ignored!

Aurangzeb also made mistakes and there should not be a problem in saying that...

Hyderabadi said...

Yes! ofcourse there should not be a problem in saying that... Aurangzeb also made mistakes.
But making a mistake/s doesnt necessarily meant that a person/king is/was a "wrong" one.
انڈسکرائب بھائی ، دونوں جملوں میں فرق ہے۔ سوائے انبیاء کے کوئی انسان ایسا معصوم نہیں پیدا ہوا کہ اس سے غلطیاں نہ ہوئی ہوں۔
کسی کو یکسر "غلط" قرار دے دینا ایسا ہی غلط ہے جیسے کسی کی غلطیوں کو جان کر بھی صرف اس کی خوبیوں کو مدّنظر رکھ کر اسے یکسر "اچھا" کہہ دیا جائے۔

indscribe said...

My dear Hyderabadi Sb

Where did I mention that he was an entirely wrong person....please read again....

'Whatever wrong Aurangzeb did....'

which is translated as 'Jo bh ghalat Aurangzeb ne kiya'...Or if somewhere else I have written anything please mention...


Hyderabadi said...

@ indscribe
Its OK bhai.
& sorry for misunderstanding of the words.....

Anonymous said...

Every time I read the comments on issues in this website, I get convinced that the commentators conveniently by pass the core issue and indulge in insignificant observations of the author. Not only that .they make a mountain of a mole hill!
The author rightly declares that
comics meant for children and adoloscents should not be used to indoctrinate the young minds and indirectly widen the chasm between the two communities!
After 18657, the British decided to rule the Indian colony,by "dividing the two principal communities", by false historical interpretations and widening the gap by becoming friend of one and enemy of another in accordance with the demands of the situation!
He utilized his railway station for that purpose.A Hindu was appointed to supply"Hindu pani" and a Muslim for "Muslim pani"! The Muslim Refreshment Room was singled out to let Hindus avid them.For the first fifty years, Hindus were played up.In Mulim majority ares, Hidus were made zamindars and rulers and vic versa.
The next 5o years he appeased the Muslims to discredit the national struggle for freedom!
From time immemorial, many foreigners have invaded India and
established their rule.But Muslims were shown as plunderers and despots!
Babar was the first Muslim monarch to ban the slaughter of cow in the public to avoid offending the religious sentiments of his Hindu subjects.
Aurangzeb was a bigot! Yet he has endowed a village for a Ram temple in Chitrakoot!Let people go and verify the fact.
Tippu was a sufi and king. In his Srirangapatnam fort he built a templ e and a mosque. To many Hindu mutts he had donated
In 1941 director V.Shnataram made history by making a Hindi filem ("Padosi" -_Neighbour)He made a Muslim actor play the Hindu's part and a Hindu the Muslim's role.It was a tremendous success!
It edified the enviably harmonious
relations between the communities.
This attempt to indoctrinate the minds of gullible people was undertaken in 1980s for getting votes and improving the fortunes of a political outfit and not for the safeguarding and promoting the Hindu way of life.
It is upto the people of India to see things through and place people in their peoper places.
Iqbal said :
"Na samjho ge tho mit jaoge Hindustan walo!
Tumhari dastan tak bhina hogi datanonme!"

Chirag said...

Dear Indscribe,

having read many an Amar Chitra Katha, I never really regarded them as "communal" per se. True, they do in some cases "pump up" nationalistic and, more specifically, Hindu pride. I actually never noticed as a young child, though.

Please take a moment to consider what I'm saying -- by your standards, the way that all Muslims are taught the history of Islam is "communal." Muslims whom I have spoken to or corresponded with regarding Islamic history talk about the great generals and rulers of Islamic history with absolute pride and with no negatives whatsoever.

The early Arab conquests are regarded as unqualified, good things, with no negative consequences - they are portrayed as conquests over absolute evil doers. But the people those Arabs conquered were not all "evil doers," (some of them may have fit that description, but clearly not all) they were just those either of different religions or in some cases different races. In most cases they were Christians.

So glorifying the conquests of Arabia, or Spain or Byzantium, and not presenting any counter-narrative or qualifications whatsoever in those cases, can be seen as "communalism" against Christians, can't it?

Isn't communalism basically the result of glorifying one's own while running down and caricaturing others? Isn't that how all of Islamic history is taught in most Islamic schools? The conquered peoples are an absolute caricature - I have come across so many Muslims who believe that India was nothing before Islam, it just drives me crazy. And we survived. Their view of those who didn't - ancient persia, byzantines, north africans - is an absolute caricature and disfigurement of what those peoples actually were.

Isn't this a very slanted view of history?

Compare that slanted version of history, and the slant found within Amar Chitra Katha. The biases in Amar Chitra Katha are very mild in comparison to what most Muslims learn about their own glorious history.

Anonymous said...

Who barred a Muslim writer or publisher to publish comics on Islamic myth ? The Muslim foundations have much more money .If thry could use these money to support terrorism , don't you think some of these funds should expense for muslim comics to enhance Islamic myhical sense to Muslim students of Madrassas ?
don't spread communal feelings .The Hindu readers have right to read comics of their own myths and they shouldn't force to read Muslim comics .For Muslim , let them to create their own publishing house .No one bar them to publish such books or to publish articles in Eid .If you don't find any article on Eid in a "Hindu " magazine , why you are subscribing it ?Stop subscribing .But it is unfair to force editor/publisher to direct as per your will .Tghis is not democracy , this is not secularism .

Vikram said...

I think i spent considerable amount of time reading these comics in 80's. And the way i have turned out, i dont think they succeeded in communalizing mind of hindu kids.

vikram said...

conversation between you and hyderabadi here about aurangzeb is very interesting. If for aurangzeb you have to use 'jo usane galat kiya...' why shouldnt that be used for every one? I dont think Tagodias and Modis would ever commit the crimes that despot did.

aziaf said...

Assalamu alaikum wrb!!

Interesting! I have read Ambulimama, the Tamil version of Chandamama and other Tamil comics. I have also read Panchathanthiram stories and many others including Lava, Kusa during my childhood days and got fascinated by them.

Apart from this, I have read a lot about Hindu culture and mythology in my Tamil classes. Also a bit about Christianity in my English prose and poetry. I doubt how many non muslims in India know anything about Islam. For them Islam is what they read from History where the Mughals 'invaded' (and Britishers just 'came' to India, you see :)). There is not a single chapter on our Prophet Muhammed sas, whose profound teachings can never be matched by any other philosopher in this world. Whether ACK is communal or not, totally avoiding Islam in the texts definitely makes me feel that there has to be some reasons behind it.

Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks for this wonderful walk down memory lane - of balbharti and nandan and rajan iqbaal ... nagraaj, dhruv ...
I too had read ACK in my childhood, and did notice that moslem chars are depicted with aggressive features, but had never given it a thought ... But well, the fact that VDS appeared before Gandhi doesn't leave any doubt.
But anyway, it is too soft a communalism, communalism in in a gentlemanly way.
Chalta hai, I 'd say ...

Anonymous said...

you may read amar chitra katha online for free http://www.amarchitrakatha.com/weekly_story/index.php?flag=y

kk said...

Since you ARE a decent man, I must admit I have to take your charge against Amar Chitra Katha seriously.

But then I thought back to my own childhood, and the single greatest comics propagating communal harmony (in the subtext) WAS the Akbar Birbal comics of ACK! Those ACK comics WERE the primary source of information for me about Akbar Birbal! Plus the same man started the magazine Tinkle, and from the very first issue, they used to carry tales of Mullah Naseeruddin.
Yes, maybe Pai was more proud of his hindu culture, but why attribute to malice something that may be due to his ignorance?


kk said...

I dont want to appear communal but I do think that popular culture did an excellent job of propogating "Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai" in the 80s. It was the cognitive dissociation caused by the pseudo-secularism of the congress that made people more aggressively communal.

kk said...

Would love to actually hear your responses. And regarding Tippu Sultan: on the surface he is a hero but if you travel to places like Mangalore, the local people still have memories of his atrocities against the resident Christians. So if people are cynical about his hero-giri, there is a reason. This is something you will never read in the simple-minded history books. :)

krisman said...

Dear friend,
I too read a lot of amar chitra katha in my pre teens and teens, now I am in the process of collecting them for my children.

As for your observations on the 'communal nature'

As you know, iconography is proscribed according to islam, and you might agree, things have flared up on relatively trivial issues in the past. ( No I will not go into details). It might be out of abundant prudence that publishers of ACK avoided getting into controversy. The innocent objective of introducing Indian culture, mythology and history would have been mired into unnecessary controversies.

This is also the reason that very few if any comics exist on islamic or middle east history.

The answer my friend is not with amarchitrakatha, probably elsewhere.

velooran said...

As far as I know, Mr.Pai is a good businessman. He produced only those titles which sold more. And I know that most of the Muslim titles which Amarchitrakatha brought out didn't sell well. As everyone may appreciate, Hindu titles have more fun and adventure in them, and so kids irrespective of religion are attracted to them. People like you, please don't inject communcal intolerance in everything..please..

Anonymous said...

Dear Indscribe,

After reading this blog I became nostalgic and went back in my childhood dream factory of Champak, Nandan,Chandamama,Amarchitrakatha,Chacha Chaudhary etc etc..It is a pleasure to see that there are people who still remember those books/magazines.They had left a mark in my life,they are my friend,philosopher and guide.

I had never found them communal as a child and also as a adult I don't see any of such kind.

I happened to be at your site by chance while browsing internet and I found it interesting and quite objective.One thing I can sense that --- aap kuch khafa khafa se hain...you are restless!!!

Mai aap se yahi kahoongi ke --apnon se Mohabbat jaroor kar par mujh se nafrat mat kar...

Anonymous said...

Amusing the defense of AKC. We fell back on them only when the cost of american comics went through the roof. There were 'good Muslim' issues no doubt. The centre stage Muslims were drawn well but yes - no doubt about it - the pereiphery muslims almost invariably had wily unlikable faces. Over the years - especially in Tinkle there has been improvement in this sphere. But as someone said above one can't 'deny the past' :), it is a fact AKC had biased drawings of Muslim characters. It was more of a relief to read an AKC comic which had no Muslim character - you were sure to have villians or side characters which DID NOT have caricature faces that they reserved for Muslim characters.