Kanika Mishra says, “So, I think discouragement is the main reason which holds women back from pitching their work.” Continuing the conversation from “Why We Need More Women in Editorial Cartooning” Rituparna Chatterjee spoke to Kanika Mishra, the maker of popular woman cartoon character ‘Karnika Kahen’ to know more about her struggle to establish herself as a cartoonist and why political cartooning still remains so male dominated. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Why do you think women are yet to break into this space?

See, we can say that we are living in the 21st century and nowadays women are working with men everywhere, but sadly this is not true. We still have to fight for our existence.

In my case, I started making cartoon years before Karnika Kahen happened. I was in college (Lucknow College of Arts and Crafts), had my political and social point of views which I converted into the cartoons, I tried a lot to get those published in newspapers, showed it to news editors. Even though, they liked my cartoons but discouraged me by saying that it is too late to get it published or other excuses. Instead, they gave me a job to draw cartoons for children’s column and illustrations on soft articles. That time, I was a student so I thought I might need to complete my graduation (BFA), only then I can be an editorial cartoonist. But I tried a lot to be a political cartoonist when I was looking for a job in Delhi but was never succeeded.

And when I started Karnika Kahen I tried, again and again, to find a proper job in some newspaper because I thought that now I have acceptance of my viewers, but still I found no success.

And when I started Karnika Kahen I tried, again and again, to find a proper job in some newspaper because I thought that now I have acceptance of my viewers, but still I found no success. Maybe being a woman, they still think that I can’t have my point of view on important issues especially in politics they have reserved “SOFT” story and children’s comics for us for women artists! I think it is because of the mindset of people in the media which is stopping women to break in this space.

What are the challenges of being a woman illustrator in a male world?

I recall, once a senior cartoonist got very upset over my anti-establishment cartoons and insulted me and my cartoons publicly.

Some people think that it is easy to insult and abuse a woman to stop them from what they are doing. But at the same time there are a lot of other male friends over social who appreciated my work and fight for me day and night!

And, we all know about trolls and what kind of language and threats they use so there is no need to talk about them. I faced it all in the very early stage when I started Karnika Kahen and made first few cartoons on Asaram. I lodged the complaints in the local police station, cyber crime cell, Women Commission and all. But, now, I have grown a thick skin and almost become immune to abuses and threats. Don’t take those seriously.

So, in my views, there is still a huge gap in gender equality! New talents, especially woman are not welcomed by the people who are into the business! They still live in their prejudiced thoughts that women can’t have a point of view on the important issues, especially in politics. And it will take time for them to get out from such mindset.

Nowadays, the way ruling party members keep speaking about women and keep suggesting them how they should conduct themselves, it shows us the face of society. Even our dear Prime minister can address a woman 50k ki girlfriend and made the remark on Bangladeshi Prime Minister, “Ek Aurat hote hue bhi..”, it all shows this mentality of patriarchy in our society very well. After all, they came from among us, we have chosen them! So I think we have a long battle to fight to show our strength in this male-dominated world. It will be wrong if we will put all the blame on men for holding back women in society, women are also playing a huge role in this patriarchy. For a recent example, we can see Madhu Kishwar‘s remark on Congresswoman worker. It is a shame.

What holds women back from pitching their work to newspapers and what should they do to work in mainstream media?

When I faced a lot of rejection from media, I started searching for other jobs as a graphic artist, animator or an illustrator. So I did it all, made strips for children comics, worked as an animator, mobile game designer and what not. And I almost forgot all about my childhood dream to become a cartoonist because there was no hope left and I lost interest after getting so much rejection and chose something else. I think this happens to most of the women.

Even when Karnika Kahen happened, I was putting all my energy into Karnika Kahen (and my husband was helping me) and that time, we stopped working on our freelance projects. It was almost like we lost our livelihood that time. Then, I thought to get a job as a cartoonist in the newspaper, so I sent my cartoons to the editors of so many newspapers but nobody even cared to reply my emails. I talked over the phone to the many news editors that if they got my mail and if yes when I could call them again to talk regarding the same? What I got in reply … No, No please don’t call, we will see!

So, I think discouragement is the main reason which holds women back from pitching their work.

But thanks to the free world of social media, if you have talent and need to say something important, you can do it and prove your mettle. When my cartoons are shared by thousands, I know that what I am doing is right and need approval from no one. So, one can take that route and walk on that path to earn the viewers and accolades and I am sure that the mainstream media, then notice about you even though sometimes they pretend to ignore you.

Rituparna Chatterjee is a feminist journalist and writes on gender parity, women’s rights and social inequality. She started her career with The Statesman newspaper in Delhi and has worked in digital and print media for the last 15 years.

The illustrations have been used with the permission from the artist.

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