On Sri Lankan Political Cartoonists, Stray Dogs and Hypocrites

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 15, 2012

Jayalalitha cartoon September 9 2012 in Lakbhima by HasanthaWijenayake

On September 9, Lakbima (a Sinhala daily newspaper in Colombo) carried a cartoon by HasanthaWijenayake. It featured a plump Jayalalitha Jayaram, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, in an aggressive posture against Sri Lanka. While her right index finger was pointing at Sri Lanka, her left hand holding the lower end of saree to her waist. In the cartoon, strangely, Sri Lanka is not represented by an identifiable individual, but as its geographic model. Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, was featured as a minor crouching figure, under the private parts of Jayalalitha, looking upwards. The Lakbima paper is owned by Thilanga Sumathipala, a Colombo district MP allied to the current ruling party of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 In Tamil there is a colloquial idiom to the fact that wherever a stray dog is hit, it instantly raises its legs! Though there have been claims and counter claims that the Tamil women had been insulted by the cartoonist’s liberty to show a woman politician with raised saree ends, while the hapless Manmohan Singh could only look upwards. In the internet, few Sinhalese readers had contended that, Jayalalitha’s fury at Sri Lankans (Sinhalese regime) is well portrayed, but the location of Manmohan Singh in the cartoon was misdirected. He should have been located somewhere else. One specifically had pointed out, rather than Manmohan Singh, if the cartoonist had sketched Karunanidhi (Jayalalitha’s political rival in Tamil Nadu) it would have been more appropriate.

Jiffry Yoonoos cartoon, during the Premadasa Presidency

What I wish to note is that it is not unusual for Sri Lankan political cartoonists to use the raised garb of a person above knees as a metaphor of aggression. In that sense, cartoonist Hasantha Wijenayake cannot be faulted. For comparison, I provide another cartoon by Jiffry Yoonus, which appeared during President Premadasa’s tenure. In this, a thug with raised sarong is shown hollering ‘Hey boss, the job’s done. According to plan, no more offensive cartoon’, while having one of his foot firmly pressed to the chest of a bleeding cartoonist. In fact, Yoonus did suffer injury from a politician’s thugs for being a political cartoonist. What I consider offensive in Wijenayake’s cartoon was placing Manmohan Singh under the crotch of Jayalalitha.

Jayalalitha as a ‘Woman Devil’ threatening democracy

Having stated this, I’ll note that Jayalalitha has been a public figure since 1965; first as a movie star for 17 years and since 1982, as a politician. Indian (especially Tamil Nadu) cartoonists, had depicted her politics and tantrum in a diverse array of shades. For the uninitiated, I provide two cartoons nearby. In one, she was depicted as a woman devil (Bhasmasura), who chases Lord Shiva (democracy and freedom of press). In the other one (with captions in Tamil), a plump Jayalalitha is seated in a chair-throne, carrying a placard which states ‘Supporting Tigers is a national treason’. Vaiko (in a garb with tiger coat), seated under the chair mumbling ‘This is not a tiger, but a cat’.

Jayalalitha is seated in a chair-throne, carrying a placard which states ‘Supporting Tigers is a national treason’. Vaiko (in a garb with tiger coat), seated under the chair mumbling ‘This is not a tiger, but a cat’.

Jayalalitha & Vaiko cartoon

I was somewhat amused by the hypocrisy of R.K. Radhakrishnan, the foreign correspondent of the Hindu (Chennai).  Immediately after the Wijenayake cartoon appeared in Lakbima, he was actively involved in exchanging twitter messages with Bandula Jayasekara, the press officer of President Rajapaksa. But nothing of his report appeared in the Hindu internet version. I was wondering whether Radhakrishnan did in fact send his report to the Hindu editorial desk, or whether if such report by Radhakrishnan was censored in Chennai.

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No Responses to “On Sri Lankan Political Cartoonists, Stray Dogs and Hypocrites”

  1. Aru

    Why would there be amusement or thinking of ‘hypocrisy’ of R.K. Radhakrishnan for not mentioning what he tweeted as a write up?

    As a still evolving but one of the most influential media and vibrant activist tools, twitter has no set rules, boundaries.

    There is no normality to say that anyone’s tweets has to appear as News in another medium, some see it as a stand alone news organ, while others will want to see a follow up in platforms more accustomed to them.

    Some will want it on TV but many TV newscasts running twitter feeds along with their newscast. In Print medium for eg, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror is publishing selected tweets on its pages.

    Thank you R.K. Radahakrishnan did his part and Sri Lanka ‘citizen journalism’ site groundviews carried a detailed time line of this matter.


  2. Nathan

    This behaviour of lifting one’s sarama, saree or reddhe is part of the culture and a well known expression of aggression in Sri Lanka. It goes further. Lifting the cloth still higher up to the extent of exposing the genital is one step more. In street fights one see this often, especially when the other party is retreating. Women doing this too is not that unusual.

    I recall this in 1969 when the army marched into the Peradeniya campus to occupy the gymnasium during the Independence celebration to be held in Kandy. It was not an act of aggression but an already approved plan. But when the army marched in from Sarasaviya Uyana Railway Station the students (males in this case) standing outside Jayatilleke and Arunachalam Halls lifted their sarongs and exposed their genitals to welcome their members of the armed forces. It is difficult to say whether it was a gesture of insult or greeting the military who are not a foreign army or invaders.

    If one looks at these cartoons in the same context then it is difficult to read the mind of the author as to what his intention was? The author himself may have been the one of many who lifted his sarama to welcome the military in 2009.

    Incidentally stripping naked is another form of punishment (or even perversion) seen frequently. I few years ago at Wyamba election time some UNP women were made naked and made to march on the street. In 1971 the well known case of the Kataragama Queen was stripped naked by an army officer, made to walk naked in the town before she was finally shot and killed. In recent times it was a very frequent and an expected behaviour of the armed forces to strip naked the dead female LTTE cadres. Some time the naked bodies were paraded around the town in tractors, possibly to satisfy the carnal desires of the villagers too.

    Thus this cartoonist who comes from the same background is only expressing his very mental make up.

  3. Sachi Sri Kantha

    To respond to ‘Aru’s comments: I wish to note that my original submission (both the text and the included cartoons) had been modified by the site editor.

  4. Sachi Sri Kantha

    A rejoinder to the previous comment: The site editor had added the missing cartoons from the earlier version.