How art on social media became the face of anti-CAA protests

Fearless by Shilo Shiv Sulaiman  

Rachita Taneja sees her popular comic strip, Sanitary Panels, as just “one of the tools in my toolkit to mobilise people.”

With over 33,000 followers on Instagram and a column with Forbes magazine, Sanitary Panels — which began during Rachita’s years as a Greenpeace campaigner — has been scathingly vocal about social and environmental causes.

Now, as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) have taken hold of the country, it is more active than ever. The images have been been taken out of phone screens into real life. Rachita’s identifiable stick figures — as well as sketches she made from converting powerful press photographs — are among the most common visuals seen on protests posters in city after city. For she is among a host of cartoonists to have made their work open and available for the cause.

Rachita Taneja

Rachita Taneja  

Another such artist is Kruttika Susarla, who has not only put up a Google drive of some of her work for the public, but also had posters translated into Tamil and Marathi for good measure.

But it is not just about posters — artists with followers as large as these women have, also take their role as influencers seriously. Information dissemination is an important part of what Rachita does, be it pie charts of Internet shutdowns or social media posts dispelling rumours. She was also one of the leading people behind the Net Neutrality movement in 2015. “I always try to add some more text for explanation, along with my Sanitary Panels posts,” she says.

Shilo Shiv Suleman

Shilo Shiv Suleman  

This is something Bengaluru-based artist and social worker Shilo Shiv Suleman has been doing for about seven years now. Her work We Belong Here has been going viral since the protests picked up, though her influence is not restricted to India alone. Her The Fearless Collective, started during the Nirbhaya protests, used to be centred around art, but “has evolved into a more detailed organisation creating monuments around social issues: we work with sex workers in Pakistan, Syrian refugees and undocumented migrants in Beirut, and indigenous communities in Brazil, among others,” she says.

These women are not alone... a number of artists and creative minds are using their talent to spread awareness, mobilise, and lend the protests some colour. One of the images going viral is that of a tricolour whose saffron strip has grown larger than the other two colours, with a man struggling under its weight. Titled Weighing Us Down, the work is by an anonymous artist who goes by the Instagram handle Smish Designs. “I haven’t really made it available, but people have made their own renditions of the piece to carry to the ongoing protests across the country,” says the designer.

Weighing Us Down, the work by an anonymous artist who goes by the Instagram handle Smish Designs

Weighing Us Down, the work by an anonymous artist who goes by the Instagram handle Smish Designs  

New York-based Anjali Chandrashekar, meanwhile, is seeing her work reflected not only at protests in New York, but also back home in Bengaluru, Delhi and Chennai. The Bengaluru-born, Chennai-raised artist has been based in the US for nearly a decade now. “I wanted to do my bit, not being able to participate in local protests [in India],” she says, “So I got in touch with Creatives Against CAA, who are crowdsourcing content and art and facilitating conversations.”

Creatives Against CAA is essentially an Instagram page run by Kadak Collective, a group of South Asian women working in the field of graphic storytelling. The group is curating work from various artists and putting them up to be shared by campaigners, protesters or even vocal Instagrammers.

Anthems galore

While ‘Azadi’ is the chant of choice for protesters across cities, independent singer-songwriters have also come up with pieces that seem to resonate.

Azadi, by Anjali Chandrashekar

Azadi, by Anjali Chandrashekar  

‘Bol Kyon’, by Kolkata-based Assamese independent filmmaker Ronny Sen, garnered over 9,000 views within a day of it being uploaded on Instagram TV. Delhi-based B Tech student Shahroz Ahmad’s ‘Kabool Kro’ reached almost 50,000 people in three days.

Shahroz, who identifies himself as Rapper Shaz, is all of 18 years old and credits his mother back home in Bihar for his love of writing. “She is a poet, I get my talent from her,” he says, “I wrote the lyrics to ‘Kabool Kro’ in an hour, after a friend and I stayed up all night disturbed by the videos of violence in Jamia [Millia Islamia University]. My friend Akhilesh Saurabh put together the video in four hours.”

‘Kabool Kro’, which translates to “admit it”, is set against a visual mishmash of news clippings, protest visuals and videos. “I was scared that I would get hate for it, but all I got were requests to sing this at protests. I will, as soon as my exams get done,” says Shahroz.

Power of the pen

'We will resist' by Creatives Against CAA

'We will resist' by Creatives Against CAA  

And then there is the translation project initiated by Delhi-based singer-songwriter Ilina Acharya. The idea is a simple one: pick a media report in English you find informative, translate it into a vernacular language, and get it published in vernacular press.

“Speaking from a musician’s point of view, it’s our job to speak up,” Ilina stresses. She adds, “The power of the stage we are given, I don’t think we realise the magnitude of it. No one is saying naara lagao (chant slogans), but at least use the stage creatively and respond to what is happening.”

For Ilina, the project came out of a need to engage productively... “A way out of the echo chamber that is our social media. People don’t really know the nitty gritties of law, but we need the facts to turn the narrative.” She concludes, unwittingly echoing Shahroz’s lyrics, “If they have their guns, we have our pens.”

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 5:20:07 AM |

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