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Reliving the turbulent past of Bengal through cartoons: Exhibition by Samit Das at IIC

By Rajesh Kumar

An exhibition of political cartoons focusing on Bengal of 1950s to the 1970s is on view at the India International Centre, New Delhi. The digital prints of the cartoons have been compiled by Samit Das and they comprise a small part of his forthcoming book on Political cartoons and illustrations from Bengal. The cartoons on view are by Sailo Narayan Chakraborty, Debiprasad Roy Choudhury, Kutty, Chandi Lahiri, Rebati Bushan and Amal Chakraborty. The exhibition is on display till July 15.


The history of political cartoons in India can be traced back to 1872 when Amrita Bazar Patrika published a cartoon ridiculing the Government’s approach of teaching Bengalis how to govern the state. Later several caricatures were published in 1874 in Harbola Bhand and Basantak on socio-political issues with the growth of nationalism and rising discontent against the British Raj.

The cartoons feature many known faces from the Indian freedom struggle, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Vallabhbhai Patel and many more, as well as the political movements that took place in that period. Cartoonists in Bengal in those times were expressing critical visual narratives with a deep sense of social and political awareness. Despite the political turmoil and differences of opinions, artists were free to work with cartoons to express their opinion without pulling down anyone, but by critiquing society and people. This was made possible due to the freedom of speech available at the time.


Bengal was, for a long time, a strong voice of society and of political awareness in the Indian community. The cartoons on display showcases the times during 50s and 70s when people did not agree with political leaders and their decisions, but could not voice their disagreement very freely. Some cartoonists with the help of their art and with collaboration with journals came forward with their solid opinions.


Samit Das believes that it’s essential to share these cartoons with the public today, because this intelligent form of art is slowly fading away from society. The reason behind this may be political in nature or this may be due to the absence of a sense of humour for socio-political satire among people today, as cartoons were never meant to be rude and crude without cause, but rather served the important social function of satire.

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