NEW DELHI: Cartoonists are being threatened everywhere. So, be it the formidable IS goons, or an everyday jerk with access to a computer, they all seem to be hell bent from preventing any ink or color to be spent that laughs at their favorite guru or baba or god. India is especially notorious in the business of muzzling its artists. Our authorities and quasi-authorities find it advisable to ban a book, or book an artist under some regressive act every once in a while, to keep ignorance alive and happy.

Kanika happens to be one such cartoonist who found herself to be in the eye of a storm after she drew cartoons of Asaram, the lecherous baba, who’s in jail now under the charge of rape. There was no invective too insulting for a woman which wasn’t hurled at her, and no threat too threatening that was issued to her. Still she stood her ground firmly and duly got the international prize for cartoonists . In an interview to The Citizen, Kanika talks about the challenges she has faced, her ‘Aam Ladki’ series of cartoons and a host of other issues. Excerpts:

Q. How has the journey been from an animator to a cartoonist? Were you always a cartoonist, meaning interested in expressing your views through cartoons since the beginning or was it a new-found interest?

Yes, I was always a cartoonist. I started my professional life when I was in second year of BFA. I made a cartoons of Mulayam and Mayawati and brought it to the editor of Swatantra Bharat in Lucknow and he gave me a job of illustrator. I also made cartoon strips for children. Then, I worked as a graphic designer for some news houses in Delhi. I kept trying to get a job of political cartoonist in those days but didn't get any success. Animation just happened as I was very curious to know the medium. But, I always wanted to be an editorial cartoonist. Making a cartoon gives me immense satisfaction. Yes, may be , they didn't take me seriously because I was a woman. They still don't take me seriously. A senior cartoonist suggested me that I should make cartoons for children, political cartoons are not my cup of tea, may be because he likes a certain kind of tea.

Q. The 'Karnika Kahen' or the aam-ladki, if I may put it this way is a very interesting concept. Could you tell us how she was born?

Yes, it is but I never planned it liked that. When I heard the news that police was searching for Asaram and his followers were still singing his praises, I became very frustrated, I came up with a cartoon where Karnika is saying to Asaram's followers why don't they search him on moon . As I had heard some of his followers saying that on full moon , they can see their Guru's face in moon if they meditate with pure heart, lol. I made fun of their blind faith. Then, I decided to put those cartoons on Facebook and Twitter. I came up with name " Karnika Kahen" means "Karnika speaks...". People thought that " Kahen" is a surname. Only later, I came to know that " Kahen" means faith in some languages and it is mostly used as girl's name. What a surprising coincidence!

Then in an interview, I said that there are many " aam aadmi" in India's cartoon world, so I decided to come up with " aam ladki". So this is how Karnika Kahen , An aam ladki was born.

Q. A lot of your cartoons are based on Asaram and even Karnika Kahen was born after it only. Was it a conscious decision?

No, it was not conscious decision. I was very frustrated after his comment on Nirbhaya that she should have called those monsters ' Bhaiya' to save her life. And with this news, that he allegedly raped a minor and his followers who were still not ready to think rationally, it all filled me with burning anger and I just wanted to express myself. In my second cartoon, Karnika suggested Asaram that he should try to call the policeman Bhaiyaa or recite a guru-mantra to save himself from law and embarrassment.

Q. Could you shed some light on the threats you received? And did it change after you won the award?

I was facing threats since I published my first cartoon but once my series on Asaram got published in India Today and Aaj Tak, they started coming hoards. They were sending abusive messages, commenting in filthy language openly, threatening to rape me, threatening to cut my nose.

They also got contact numbers for me and my husband and started calling us from various parts of India. They abused and threatened us on the phone, were telling me to put down my page. They also made vulgar cartoons of me and started putting it publicly. Interestingly, for almost three months they didn't come to know my real name and identity. Then they hacked my facebook account, stole my pictures and other information. They sent me messages that either I should put down my cartoon page or they will misuse the information. Then, I lodged the complaints in the cyber crime cell, Mumbai and local police station. Meanwhile his son also got arrested. Gradually, the threats subsided but never stopped completely. Only yesterday, one of his followers posted comments in filthy language on my Facebook wall. But, yes a recognition from Cartoonists rights Network International definitely helped me to feel more secure and safer. They made me feel that I am not alone in this battle. Thanks to these guys, they are doing a great job!

Q. You are a political cartoonist having made many cartoons against the Hindutva ideology being spread, the recent one wherein Modi being swept by the Jhaadu; and you have mentioned about how this is not taken in the good spirit. Could you let our readers know a more about this bit.

Yes. It is unfortunate that cartoons are not taken in good spirit. A cartoonist's job is to criticize, we have a BJP government and Modi is our PM so it s obvious that I, as a cartoonist, will have to keep an eye on government's policy and our political environment. If you are so afraid of criticism of your leader, it shows that your faith is weak and you very insecure as a person and as a political party.

Q. Are you planning to extend it by being attached to some media house? And don't you think you might lose your independence once you join a particular organisation?

I would love to. Because, I am working on Karnika Kahen, without any money for last one and half year. Earlier , we were working on freelance projects and that was the source of our income, which is completely stopped these days. But, I need freedom to express my views, I can never compromise with Karnika Kahen's independent voice. That is why I am more interested in finding a sponsor.

Q. What do you think of the present cartoon scenario in India?

I think it has become very interesting now. It is a golden era for cartoonists, lol! There are so many stupid statements every day in newspaper. It is not possible to make cartoon on each topic. Sometimes, I wish to hire a team. On a serious note, there is lot of political churning happening in the country.It 's our chance to make a change.I am very hopeful, trying to do my bit .

Q. We have seen cases like Aseem Trivedi or the cartoon on Ambedkar, and many many cases, including yours. Do you feel,we , as a nation has become too-sensitive about everything? Or do you think it is the state that is dictating us. Or is it both ways?

It is both ways. We have always been a very sensitive nation, ready to get offended on every small thing and do not shy to make a huge issue out of it. We are not sensitive about our women, our farmers, innocent lives of our citizens but very much sensitive about our religion, our politics and so called culture. And, now, we have a government which is far more sensitive than the public. I think that they are living in a different era, somewhere in past, they live in denial, a ban on India's daughter clearly indicate this fact.

Q. Talking about cartoons in India, how do you think women are portrayed in them, in case they are portrayed at all. And what are the reasons behind this skewed scene?

I don't think there are many women in the world of cartoons in India. If there are, I might not have heard about it , except Savita Bhabhi. I think world of Indian cartoons also reflect the state of our society where women are not that important or are seen as sex object, very much like what we see in our Bollywood movies. Thank God, it is changing. My Karnika Kahen is a socially and politically aware girl who is not afraid to speak her mind. She is not what men expected her to be, she has her own voice , her own thoughts and her own views. She represents the voice of common girl or everyday woman of India.

Q.What are your future plans?

I am writing episodes of animated series of Karnika Kahen. I also want to work on animated cartoons with voice, music etc. I have great ideas, it could be a lots of fun! May be in next few years, we will come up with a full fledged animated movie on Karnika Kahen .

But I need money and support for that. If somebody is listening, please come forward.....