The Ambedkar Cartoons, 1932–1956
with a Foreword by Suraj Yengde
This history like no other asks you to consider what you are laughing at.
In 2012, the inclusion of a 1949 cartoon by Shankar showing Jawaharlal Nehru whipping a snail-borne B.R. Ambedkar in a school textbook, evoked dalit protest, and a savarna counter on the grounds of artistic freedom. Scholar and cartoonist Unnamati Syama Sundar then undertook an archival survey of cartoons on Ambedkar in the English language press. The result, a collection of over a hundred cartoons from India’s leading publications, drawn by Shankar, Enver Ahmed and R.K. Laxman, among others, lays bare the perverse and thoughtless hostility Ambedkar often contended with. The incisional commentary woven around each cartoon offers a veritable biography of a man historically wronged.
Unnamati Syama Sundar grew up in Vijayawada on a diet of Calvin and Hobbes, Dennis the Menace, Chacha Chaudhary and Amar Chitra Katha. He is doing his doctoral research at Jawaharlal Nehru University on the art featured in Chandamama, the popular Telugu children’s magazine founded in 1947. Syama Sundar is well-known for his Ambedkarite cartoons in the non-savarna social media world. His work is featured regularly on the website roundtableindia.co.in.
In the Media
No Laughing Matter seamlessly captures the synergy between words and images … carefully decoding each cartoon with historical precision and an anti-caste filter.—Firstpost
A book that overturns the usual assumptions about political cartooning.—from an excerpt in The Hindu
No Laughing Matter goes a long way to show that the media and cartoonists do not only make great men, but sometimes villains too. If you love Ambedkar, and if you read this book, get ready to be offended and the angry at the same time.—The Print
Four years of search and research has resulted in No Laughing Matter featuring 122 cartoons [which show how] cartoonists deliberately targeted Ambedkar even if there was nothing really to make fun of.—from an excerpt in The Print
Each cartoon is a lesson in the history of the making of the Republic of India. No Laughing Matter is steeped in satire.—Mid-Day
The book works like one big cartoon. One-sided, adversarial, unsparing. Cartoonists can’t complain. They are getting a taste of their own medicine.—The Indian Express
‘These cartoons are as relevant today as they were seventy years ago’—Vijeta Kumar
‘No Laughing Matter unveils the dirty savarna gaze and gives us much to learn’—Varun Grover
‘Syama Sundar uncovers upper-caste majoritarianism disguised as artistic freedom’—Rajyashri Goody
‘A scathing and unsparing reappraisal of Indian political cartooning’—Suraj Yengde, in his Foreword