Prashant Nema is a writer and an Anti-Caste Activist. He recently finished an interesting visual series over Amar Chitra Katha, comic books in which he brought out the bigotry of the graphic novel and comic publisher.
In a farewell post, he writes, “I am going to suspend my Amar Chitra Katha series over here, not because there is nothing more I could find but because I think I have given enough samples now so that I can explain the purpose behind it and force you to read this long essay.”
Here is what Prashant has explained about the ACK series.
There are still many issues that can be demonstrated here and many more that cannot be captured in a single snapshot. Then some issues are about the omissions or a false narrative too.
These are all well explored by scholars who do these kinds of studies, not social media couch potatoes like me.
Let us make one assumption here, which is that you were all able to see obvious problems in the snaps I shared earlier.
If it is not obvious yet I have nothing more to say to you.
So the main reason for the series was neither to show how regressive are themes/stories/narrative of Amar Chitra Katha nor about how disgusting mythology that powers Hinduism are.
Both of those are given/proven before and don’t need more validation.
The main reason for the exercise was to examine the class that indulged in it, loved it, promoted it and yet continued to pretend that it has transcended the philosophies/ideology/narratives that were conveyed by these comic books to little children. Let us look at some assumptions that I have made here.
1) ACK had a wide distribution in many languages including English (while growing up I can remember the English language having more legitimacy over Indian languages among the elites with the expectation that English media does a better job at verification etc)
2) According to ACK itself they have sold over 100M comics.
These were not read by one child, often they were handed to siblings, exchanged with cousins and turned into hard-bound copies and shared with next generations as well.
3) Unlike other comics, ACK found much more acceptance in Hindu dominant caste homes and equally enjoyed by boys and girls. Other comics were often deemed to be “violent” even though ACK is far more violent. Other comics were also considered to have a psychological effect on children and “spoil” them.
4) It is not that parents just bought these comics for children and were oblivious to what they contained. Savarna parents or their network is usually very good at monitoring what their children indulge in
5) What I showed you was a consistent theme and were not some exceptional case. They were very much at the core of these stories so one could not have missed them.
So given all this, one is motivated to ask, how was the class of adults who were claiming to be casteless, modern and progressive letting all this happen under their nose?
Here is what I think happened and what I want someone smarter to study more thoroughly,
My premise is that Amar Chitra Katha (like Geeta Press and others operating in this industry) is part of a project to update and synchronize Hindu mythology aka Brahminism with the new age. It is a project that is part of the process that repeats now and then. The latest phase has been a few hundred years old. Just like nonsense that tries to fit Dashavatara with the theory of evolution. (Rumor is that everything discovered thru science in the modern age was already discovered in the Vedic age (without scientific process of course) and ACK does indeed repeat this line often )
So what does this upgrade/update process of Hindu mythology involve? The purpose of these projects is to mix up some modern colours to it, to polish the rough edges, to remove the very visible bigotted views, to preserve what can be preserved to sweep the unbearable under the carpet. In a way, to restore the legitimacy of a perverted, bigotted text in the eyes of a generation that can be confused on how to apply it because of exposure to modern ideas and restrictions by the modern constitution. You see 100 years ago one could say with pride that they belonged to a superior caste or that men were superior to women. But the modern era wants you to pretend to be a worshipper of equality. So how to deny equality while pretending to be all for it. This paradox needed a new narrative so that the Savarna children learn how to maintain their hegemony in the new world before accidentally spoiling it.
It needs a narrative that can deal with challenges raised against it so that “Nanhe Savarnas” can wage a righteous battle, just like their ancestors, just like the heroes in mythology…
Thus the following becomes important
1) Reiterating again and again that these are part of the glorious heritage of the nation which was once, thru Brahminism, able to attain greatness
2) To obfuscate, hide, corrupt the real glorious heritage ( Buddhism, anti-caste culture)
3) Downplay the hierarchical and unjust nature of caste and make it look benign. We were all one big happy family where everyone knew their place. And that system “works!” (for us hehe)
4) Justify violence on marginalized, on women on anyone who goes against the ‘glorious culture’ for the greater good!
5) Reiterate the “poor Brahmin” trope so that the question of disproportionate ownership by the Brahmin class can be preempted. To indeed show them as cute little harmless knowledge seekers and “keepers” – not gatekeepers, not abusers, not deniers.
6) Post Hindu Code Bill, the girls had to be thought-controlled lest they fail to see that caste behaviour was more rewarding than gender solidarity (with other 90% women)
7) To establish “tolerable-lies” as “sentiments” that shall not be hurt. So that a few errant minds don’t spoil the game.
So that nonsense like “Hinduphobia” can become a thing every time someone brings any logical questions to the table.
8 ) To obscure the fact that Indian technology was never fully developed because of the monopoly of 1% of the population on knowledge systems.
9) To hide the fact that a caste society was inefficient, defeated, weak and foolish besides being inhumane to its masses (meaning it wasn’t even good for the ALL oppressor class folks)
10) To perpetuate the myth that the oppressor castes operated for the greater good and Indians lived as one people.
11) To create a counter to Bahujan culture that would have attracted the marginalized who were obtaining education thanks to modern anti-caste leaders.
( etc etc)
ACK fulfils many of these requirements, which is why the parents are/were comfortable with it or even encourage it. Those who get exposed to it in early childhood are less likely to drift towards anti-class behaviour, more likely to be fragile when faced with anti-caste literature and be a great Savarna. They will be the ones who will help spread the gospel of Manu in all spheres of their lives. The fact that many Savarnas miss this obvious casteism and misogyny may be important for some exercise, but more than that we should study how this benefits them. Because trust me, if there was any chance it was hurting Savarna class, you would have heard of it by now!
Author Prashant Nema is a writer and an Anti-Caste Activist.
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