Art that catalyzes Orenda
Updated: May 22
Vaishnavi Pallapothu takes a deep dive into Instagram and discovers some of the most thought-provoking artists who use their art to call for the repeal of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in India.
The passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on December 11th 2019 has spurred an unprecedented number of protects across the nations and perhaps shows the most dissent and unrest towards the incumbent government in the last 6 years of their rule. For more than 2 months now, protesters across India have taken to the streets to oppose the controversial act which discriminates against Muslims and makes religion a basis for granting Indian citizenship. Coupled with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), marginalized groups fear the exercise of such a register could potentially render them stateless.
In these times of dissent, art, comics, illustrations and infographics have been at the forefront of the agitations against the CAA-NRC. Using social media as a powerful outlet and platform, artists have taken their outrage and anger and transformed into simple yet powerful takedowns that question and critique these policies, while championing peaceful protest. These creative pieces have not only helped raise awareness about the flaws in the NRC and CAA but also sometimes use humor and poetry to refute misinformation and the general narrative surrounding these policies.
Let’s take a look at some of the artists making an impact. Whether at protests or on social media, these illustrators and creators have carved a safe space for protestors and dissenters in their artwork. Using their creativity to persist and resist, these artists’ pieces continue to be showcased prominently at protest sites.
1. Kruttika Susarla
An illustrator, comic maker and graphic designer based out of New Delhi, Kruttika has been a prominent member of the liberal art space for a long time now. Her illustrations have featured in The Washington Post and Caravan as well as in various art and comic exhibitions around the country. Her Instagram page features many creative drawings and illustrations that speak out against the Modi-led BJP administration, critiquing and questioning the discriminatory policies and also calling out hypocritical politicians. She has created several poster templates to be used during the protests, displaying solidarity with the students at Jamia Milia Islamia. Some other illustrations feature digs at Modi and Shah for disrespecting the Indian constitution. Her illustrations come in English and Telugu.
2. Rohan Chakravarty/Green Humour
Green Humour is a series of cartoons, comics and illustrations on wildlife and nature conservation, environment, sustainability and climate change. Rohan’s cartoons and illustrations have been featured in National Geographic Traveller, the Hindu and Pune Mirror. Recently, he has been posting political cartoons which are critical of the current administration – a move that has cost him plenty of followers on social media, many accusing him of spreading leftist propaganda. Nevertheless, Rohan continues to encourage his readers to form an opinion through powerful illustrations that show the “Orwellian nature” of the establishment’s latest policies. He even encouraged his followers to go vote in the recently held elections in Delhi through some thought-provoking comics and condemned the chief guest of this year’s Republic Day parade, Jair Bolsonaro. A lot of Rohan’s comics feature commentary on the government’s curbing of dissent and violation of the Constitution of India’s secular ethos.
3. Rachita Taneja/Sanitary Panels
Created in 2014, this webcomic series covers a range of topics from victim blaming to democracy, misogyny, social injustice, discrimination and hypocrisy of politicians. Her simple stick-figure drawings convey complex ideas with ease and Taneja has expressed that humour can be highly effective to communicate messages to large groups online. She has been particularly critical of Arnab Goswami and the right-wing media that spreads anti-Muslim propaganda. Her most popular comics are the ones which call out Modi and Shah for their Hindutva comments or policies. During the CAA-NRC protests, she designed templates to be used to coordinate protests and was also encouraging of protestors to use her artwork during the demonstrations.
4. Sharath Ravishankar/ Shirt Shanks
Sharath is a visual designer, freelance illustrator and animator based in Bangalore. His comics and illustrations discuss topics such as privilege (male, cis-het, savarna), feminism, the friendzone, activism and the notion of being woke. When the CAA-NRC came into fore, with the aim of debunking fake news and the propaganda and misinformation being spread, he collaborated with several others from around the country to create primers about the CAA and NRC separately in many different regional languages. These are available both on his Instagram page and on a google drive link. He was also very active in compiling verified lists on the ongoing protests and made sure to amplify the voices of those who needed to be heard. His most recent primers include “how to spot a Sanghi” and “how to take down a fascist state.”
5. Shubhangani/The Killjoy Cat
In her own words, Shubhangani makes “comics & doodles about feminism, politics, pop culture, mental health” and life as she observes it. With a touch of humor, sarcasm and sass, her comics poke fun at comments made by politicians, headlines and incidents happening around the country. In the wake of the passing of the CAA, her page featured many comics showing solidarity with the students at Jamia, calling out the hypocrisy of Modi and Shah and also illustrating all too relatable conversations between a bhakt and a liberal. Shubahangi’s comics not only attempt to show the ill-effects of Hindutva politics but also remind us that Hinduism and Hindutva are not all that different because Hinduism still perpetuates a discriminatory caste system. One of her most recent comics also subtly pointed out the bias in favour of the central government in the Supreme Court’s recent rulings.
6. Jose/Planet Omelette
Jose is an illustrator and graphic novelist. On his Instagram comics page, Jose tackles issues such as citizen complacency in the ongoing CAA-NRC protests, the inaction of the CJI and the bias of the Delhi police. Using a good mix of humour and satire, Jose’s comics really drive the point home in a simple but powerful manner. His page also features a comics showing the true nature of the Trans Protection bill and several comics that call out Savarna privilege.
7. Our Dirty Underwear
From comics about the injustice and violence at Jamia and JNU to honoring Rohith Vemula on his birth anniversary, Our Dirty Underwear touches upon contentious political topics and everyday injustice. What’s unique and interesting about their approach is that the posts don’t only inform and educate but also drive home the point through hard-hitting punchlines that leave you thinking about what you’re reading and hearing in the news. This page also talks about topics such as the fee hike in many colleges around the country and the sedition charges levelled against participants in Mumbai Pride, speaking out about the implications of these on some of the most marginalized communities in the country.
8. Afsaana E Hoor
A self-described “hijabi doodler”, Afsaana’s illustrations and posters have become popular throughout the country and have been spotted in various protests, particulary the ongoing one at Shaheen Bagh. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Afsaana mentions that one of her most famous illustrations (an Indian Muslim woman in a hijab in the Indian flag colours) is closely linked to her own personal identity. The woman in the illustration is shouting words from Hum Dekhenge (We Shall See), a poem that has now become somewhat of an anthem for dissent. Channeling her anger into creativity, Afsaana’s Instagram page now features several powerful illustrations and posters honouring the courageous women who have been protesting relentlessly at Shaheen Bagh.
9. Lamya Khan/A Graphic Nerd
She no longer felt it was okay to remain quietly in the sidelines in the face of a divisive law. So, she began using her art as a powerful tool of resistance and shared her work online. A common thread in Lamya’s illustrations, is the empowering portrayal of Muslim women who are often dismissed as weak and relegated to the sidelines in politics. As she mentioned to Al Jazeera, Lamya wished to show the strength and courage of these women who “not only carry their own weight but also led the way for an inclusive, secular platform to register dissent”. Lamya’s artwork features a mixture of posters and comics, all condemning the current administration, expressing contempt for Modi’s Hindutva agenda and lauding the peaceful protestors at Shaheen Bagh.