Our series on ‘Amazing Women’ seeks to bring out women who have given themselves a dimension other than what they have been born with. They can be thinkers, doers, achievers, but mostly they are women who stand out, in any time, in any era.
In this episode we had the pleasure of having a conversation with Kanika Mishra, a cartoonist per excellence. Kanika has created a cartoon character "Karnika Kahen"- a strong opinionated and fearless Indian girl voicing her angst against the wrong things in the society.
Kanika, Why did you decide to be a cartoonist?
Since my childhood, I was very much inspired by the work of Sir R K Laxman and Mr. Aabid Surti. I used to laugh for hours to see the extreme reactions in “Dhabbu ji” cartoons , drawn by Mr. Surti. I was very much attracted to this medium in comparison to painting etc. and I always wanted to react on the political and social conditions of my country. God has given me this gift to draw! So, cartoons were the best medium for me to express myself.
Tell us about your cartoon series "Karnika Kahen". What made you create "Karnika"?
It was rather a subconscious decision than a conscious one. May be, I was boiling with anger inside because of increasing crimes against the women and one incident triggered all the negative emotions inside of me and as a reaction , I drew some cartoons where a girl/woman character is taking on the so called respected and celebrated spiritual Gurus and leaders who have least respect for women. I named the girl character ‘ Karnika’ and the beautiful journey of “ Karnika Kahen” started.
It is not an easy task for a woman to do something unconventional in India..How did people react to your initiative? Did you get support from your immediate family and friends?
As it happens always, I faced both support and opposition. Obviously, the supporters of Guru were angry and they reacted very violently. But, I also got lots of support from young generation of India, both girls and boys. My husband stood firm with me. Not once, he told me to stop making cartoons because of threats and abuse which he also faced, but encouraged me to take on these hooligans. He still helps me with “ Karnika Kahen”.
What does "Karnika" stand for? Is she a feminist? What is your take on feminism?
As a woman, Karnika is very sensitive about issues related to women. Karnika reacts when she reads news that a husband tried to make his wife drink phenol because she didn’t fast for his long life ( on occasion of Karvaa Chauth) or when she reads a news that a husband burned his wife because she kissed a political leader ( it was not a sexual kiss). I remember that no other cartoonist raised these issues but as a woman, I get disturbed when I hear such news. But, Karnika is not limited to issues related to women only. She understands that whatever is going to happen in society, will affect both men and women equally. She is as much disturbed when she hears the news about the suicide of farmers or when she finds that a poor man can’t afford the increasing price of medicines. I don’t really know if this really makes her a feminist or not. Honestly, I don’t know and don’t understand. But yes, issues related to women need special attention, especially in India!
You've said in an interview that "Making political cartoon is a male bastion". Does that mean you have faced a lot of discrimination and rejection?
Yes. Unfortunately, that is true. May be, that is why, we had many “ Aam Aadmi ( common men) in the cartoons of India but not a single female representative before ‘Karnika Kahen’ happened. As I said, that I always wanted to be a political cartoonist. Before, 10 years when I was in Delhi, I went to many media houses and applied for the job of a political cartoonist. They appreciated my work, but then offered me a job of illustrator or graphic designer. May be, they didn’t believe in my thinking process or whatever.
Recently, even after Karnika Kahen happened , a senior cartoonist publicly insulted me by saying that making political cartoons is not my cup of tea and I should rather make cartoons for children. I replied him in same manner. Later, he became so jealous that as an administrator of a certain cartoonists’ group, he started deleting my cartoons and comments from that page/ group and ultimately, threw me out of that group. Nobody from that group, came forward to take my side. It was disappointing.
What motivates you to go forward with "Karnika"?
My friends who love my work! My cartoons are shared by thousands and appreciated by millions. I get so much love and appreciation which I never expected, that keeps me going! Besides, I am in also love with cartoons, when I don’t make cartoons, I start feeling suffocating.
Tell us about your rewards and achievements so far?
I recently won Award for courage in cartooning from Cartoonist Rights Network International. I am proud to say that I am one of the first woman in world to win this prestigious international award. I was also invited in an international TV show “ The Big Debate” in Davos during World Economic Forum. I also got featured in international media extensively but surprising traditional mainstream Indian media has still not shown any love for my work or achievements.
What is your take on social media? What role did social media play in your journey so far?
I owe my success to social media. As I already told many times that I always wanted to be a cartoonist but nobody was ready to hire me and somewhere I left my dream unfulfilled and convinced myself that may be, I am not made for it. But because of the power of social media, I can interact with my readers/audience directly, and that makes me realize, “ Hey, people appreciate your work! You are good! Come on,let’s do it…..”
What are your future plans with "Karnika Kahen"?
I am seriously looking forward to make this project financially viable. For last one and half year, I am working on Karnika Kahen without earning any money. It is our sheer will which keeps us going. I am looking for some sponsors/ advertisers/ financers. I am also working on an animated series which I am planning to launch on Youtube. It will be a series of 5 to 10 minutes animate movies where Karnika will raise issues like ‘ lack of hygiene’ , ‘ people destroying our cultural heritage’, ‘ people spitting freely on roads’ and things like that. We have already written script for 10 webisodes, now we need some sponsors.
What will be your message for all those women who are trying to think outside the box?
Be ready to face criticism and have strong faith in your vision , ultimately you will conquer because you yourself are the power and have this ability to bring the change.
To connect with Kanika : Please visit her Facebook page at : https://www.facebook.com/Karnikakahen?fref=ts