By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Mir Suhail Qadiri, a 26-year-old cartoonist with the Srinagar-based publication Rising Kashmir, believes that the removal of his cartoon by Facebook – concerning the hanging of alleged militant Afzal Guru – showed that the debate over the issue was still alive. Although wary of making any overt political statement, Qadiri added that Guru was a militant for some and a martyr for others.
“Through my cartoon, I wanted to take the debate to the world. I violated nothing by making that cartoon. It was a question I asked through my art and I sought an answer. However, they removed it. Now I am scared of posting anything on Facebook. I do have access to other media where I can share my work but I can’t rely on Facebook anymore,” said Qadiri who has over 30,000 followers on the social networking site.
Qadiri said that by removing his cartoon, Facebook had deprived him of his right to participate in the debate regarding Afzal Guru’s hanging, among other issues. “People don’t understand that I live in Kashmir. I am suffering too due to the political situation here. I am a common person. I don’t go to work in an AC office in a car. My work exposes me and my family to threats from militants. My work is not created in isolation. I make the cartoons after speaking to concerned persons and stakeholders. You have to understand that there is a dispute over Kashmir,” asserts Qadiri, who lives with his family in Srinagar.
Qadiri’s cartoon depicting the hanging of Afzal Guru – in an oblique, metaphorical way – was removed by Facebook, to start with. Subsequently, the social media giant whose founder, Mark Zuckerberg, met PM Narendra Modi a while ago amidst great fanfare, blocked Qadiri’s account. Qadiri told Youth Ki Awaaz that his cartoon was “emotional” in nature and not a “provocative” one. “I tried to show the connection between his hanging and the people of Kashmir,” he clarified.
Guru was hanged on 9 February 2013, as he was found guilty of orchestrating an attack on the India’s Parliament earlier. However, his hanging was a controversial affair, with several commentators pointing out that it was done in haste and, allegedly, in contravention of judicial precedent. Following his death, Guru has acquired the status of a martyr for the cause of Kashmir’s independence although many in India, especially right-wing forces, consider him to be a terrorist.
Qadiri said that he had been a cartoonist for the past nine years, after studying fine arts at a Srinagar-based institute for five years.
“It has been a long struggle for me to establish myself. Many people don’t agree with my cartoons. I receive threats and abuses often. Debates also take place concerning my cartoons on social media. This removal of a cartoon happened for the first time. It was sudden and I don’t understand how it took place. My medium is art. That’s how I ask questions. This is a democratic country which allows me the right to freedom of expression. The same laws apply to Facebook too. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone in future,” he said.
Recently, journalist Rahul Pandita, a Kashmiri pandit, flagged a cartoon by Qadiri in a piece he wrote, questioning its content. When asked about it, Qadiri said that Pandita was a Kashmiri, like himself, and he did not mind the latter’s response. “Why should we look at the issue only from one angle? Others responded to the cartoon in their own ways. He wrote about it. It is fine by me. Debate is a good thing. One should not talk about things behind others’ backs. If there are any complaints, we should talk it out,” Qadiri said.