A set of cartoons opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill doing the rounds on social media has drawn considerable backlash against its creator, Nituparna Rajbongshi, a 38-year-old cartoonist from Assam’s Barpeta district.
Since December 31, 2018, Rajbongshi, a former journalist, has shared seven of his cartoons (one of which depicts CM Sarbananda Sonowal as a nude caricature) against the contentious Bill which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minority communities from three neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Things came to a head in Assam — which has seen severe opposition against the Bill over the course of last year — when it was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, leading to an 11-hour shutdown and protests across the Northeast.
— Cartoonist Nituparna Rajbongshi (@NituparnaRaj) January 6, 2019
While several Twitter users have tagged the official handle of the Assam Police asking them to take action against Rajbongshi, an FIR was registered on Tuesday by the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the BJP’s youth wing in Tinsukia district, against a Digboi-based youth for sharing the cartoon on Facebook. “We have interrogated the person concerned. However, we did not get sufficient evidence, so we have not taken any action yet,” said Dipak Tamuli, OC of Tinsukia police station, adding that the investigation was still on.
The FIR was lodged by Santanu Datta, president of the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, Tinsukia district. “The cartoon insults the CM of Assam. We felt really bad to see it. He is, after all, our chief minister. Now we have done our duty by reporting it — let the law take its course,” Datta said.
The cartoon in question represents a nude caricature of CM Sarbananda Sonowal with his arms outstretched. On the palm of one hand, he is shown holding a figure that represents a Hindu Bangladeshi. His other fist is clenched around a figure which depicts an Assamese. “I drew this cartoon day before yesterday when a few Assamese boys staged a nude protest in front of the Parliament in New Delhi. Before, Sarbananda Sonowal was the face of the anti-immigration movement, he was the one who showed us the way. And today, because of him, we Assamese have been reduced to protesting naked,” said Rajbongshi, who has been drawing cartoons since 1997 on various social-political issues. “Yes, I am facing a lot of flak for this cartoon but I do not regret it one bit,” he added, over the phone from Sorbhog, Barpeta.
On Wednesday, Rajbongshi received an email from Twitter notifying him that the social networking platform had labelled his media as ‘sensitive content’. “The email also said that they will permanently adjust my account settings if I continue to upload potentially sensitive media,” he said, “But I am not scared.”
Over the last two days many users have taken to Twitter to report Rajbongshi’s account asking authorities to “take necessary action” and other users to “mass report him”. “Most — not all — of these negative comments are usually by people who are from or support the RSS or the BJP,” Rajbongshi said.
Controversy regarding his work is not new to Rajbongshi, who in August 2017, received death threats on Facebook for a cartoon he made about 70 children dying in Gorakhpur, linking it to PM Narendra Modi. Rajbongshi approached the police for protection thereafter.
On the Citizenship Bill, Rajbongshi has made fifty cartoons over the past year. “It’s not like I am criticising just the BJP. Even when the Congress was in power, they did not do anything. Our fight is not about the Congress or the BJP. Or about Hindus, or Muslims. It is about us Assamese. What will happen to us?” he says, echoing the popular sentiment of majority Assamese: that the Bill, if passed, will accelerate illegal immigration from Bangladesh and thereby destroy indigenous Assamese population, overhauling their language and culture.
A number of people came out in support of Rajbongshi, including Bokakhat-based peasant activist and poet Soneshwar Narah, who said he will take responsibility to publish Rajbongshi’s cartoons into a book and distribute it across Assam.
As the Rajya Sabha debated the Bill, protests broke out across Assam through Wednesday. On Facebook, Rajbongshi wrote: “I do not care if I am banned from social media. If need be, I will go to every village in Assam and draw cartoons and distribute them in every household. This is a matter which is affecting the common folk — and I am also a common man.”