Mir Suhail Qadiri, a Kashmiri artist, on Tuesday had said that Facebook removed a cartoon he had posted on the social media website, marking the third death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Confirming that the cartoon post was deleted from the page, a Facebook spokesperson had told Firstpost, “We remove any comments – posted by anyone – that praise or support terrorist groups or their actions.”
Here is the full text of the Firstpost podcast with Qadiri (This transcript has been edited for clarity):
So, first of all, tell us what happened with your cartoon. When did you find out about it?
I always post a cartoon in the morning on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter where I have an account. So I had posted a cartoon yesterday at around 9.30 or 10 am. At 10.55 am, I received a message from Facebook saying that there was some problem with my post. When I clicked on the post, I found out that my cartoon had been deleted.
Then, I messaged my friend just to make sure that the post had not been deleted because of something I did. But when I tried to message my friend, I found out that I was blocked from messaging. I was also unable to post anything on Facebook. When I told my friend in China about everything that had happened, he asked me to send him a screenshot of my original cartoon and the message which Facebook had sent to me. And he posted those screenshots online. After that happened, the people — including journalists — who follow me and my work, both in India and abroad, called me up and asked me how a thing like this could happen.
Are you still unable to post on Facebook?
Now, I’m able to post on Facebook because I was able to send a friend request at 11 am. So, I have been able to post since then.
What were you trying to tell the people through your cartoon? What was your message?
My job, as a cartoonist, is to depict the problems, pain and emotions which people have. Even I am a common man. Even I do the things that common people do. There’s nothing special about me. And obviously, when I talk to people, they tell me about their problems. I can’t make any cartoon locked in a room isolated from other people. I can’t assume or think of some problem and its solution on my own and make a cartoon out of it.
I talk to people. And yesterday, there was a strike and people were protesting (in Jammu and Kashmir) over this issue. So you can understand the problem people are currently facing.
That’s why I made this cartoon. Even today, his (Afzal Guru’s) family is asking for his mortal remains. But the government is obviously not giving it back to them. So through this cartoon, I wanted to show that the roots of that tree called Kashmir are connected with the roots of that grave which is far away in Tihar. So I wanted to show that there is a subtle connection between the two. I wanted to show that there is some feeling due to which this connection is not direct or visible. This feeling, which also comes from Afzal Guru’s family, is strong enough to reach that grave in Tihar.
This was the message of the cartoon.
You said that you were expressing the pain of the people through your cartoon. This issue is still in the news today as there was a clash among JNU students last night on this issue. Earlier, Omar Abdullah and Shashi Tharoor have also spoken against Afzal Guru’s hanging. So do you think that instead of deleting the cartoon, Facebook should have just let the cartoon remain on the site to allow a healthy discussion or debate on the issue?
When we talk about Facebook, let’s look at why it was made in the first place and how it was made to represent the people. When Facebook was first introduced and people were told that they could share their personal photographs, issues and problems on the site, you can understand the freedom of expression which people should have on Facebook.
But of course, this doesn’t mean you can do something which is considered to be an offence according to the laws of the society you live in. There are extreme elements in every society and even I admit that extremism shouldn’t be allowed.
But an artist’s job is artwork. For many people, what an artist makes might not be important but for the artist and some others, it is an important document or even part of history. Deleting that document or history is a wrong thing. This shows that there is no respect for the artist.
Yesterday, we had asked for a reaction from Facebook on this issue. And a Facebook spokesperson told us, “We remove any comments – posted by anyone – that praise or support terrorist groups or their actions.” So this tells us that a certain section of people think that you were supporting terrorism through your cartoon. What do you have to say to this?
First of all, one needs to define what terrorism is. What do you call terrorism? When you find people with different ideologies on Facebook, you see that they come from different environments. I don’t know what you’re calling terrorism. Everyone knows about Guru. Everyone knows about the intense debate on Afzal Guru and how he was hanged. People engaged in long debates and politics while he was hanged. No one even knew when he was secretly hanged. And moreover, he was locked up for a very long time before his death. And after so many years, they suddenly said that he will be hanged, like a chicken who was killed because someone wanted to eat it.
In a democracy, one can’t be so cruel even towards a convict. And there has been a lot of debate on this issue earlier too. People know about the entire situation. So why then do I have to explain what I’m doing? I’m just bringing back the old debate. I am just another person who is debating with people through his cartoons. Some people are debating through videos and articles. I’m just debating through cartoons. And I want answers. And deleting the cartoon was not an answer. You can understand.
In a screenshot of the Facebook message that you had sent to us, the title of your Facebook post was ‘The martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Afzal Guru.’ This makes it seem like you were sympathising with a person who was convicted for the 2001 parliament attack. Do you think it is fine to say this because of artistic freedom?
The work which I do is for all the people and presents their problems. This is not my personal ideology or comment. This is a collective comment. And I told you earlier also that everyone has their own medium for debating. And I presented my debate. Now, many people might find this wrong. I’m not saying everyone will like that. But when I started the debate, they have to answer to me. Even if ten people give me ten answers, I will learn. And then I will create better cartoons for the next debates.
But forget about debating, they deleted the debate in the first place. They want debates on such controversial topics to be removed. Now, if they are 100 percent sure that he (Afzal Guru) was indeed a terrorist, they should show us evidence like documents instead of deleting posts. Is deleting my cartoon their evidence?
So, you’re saying the people who had a problem with the cartoon should have posted their problem as a comment?
Obviously, let them comment. Whether they think it’s right or wrong, they should comment. It’s only then that we’ll find out what the people think. When you are suppressing the voice of a small section of people, where is the freedom of expression and democracy?
This is the beginning of a debate. This was just the start. Someone could have taken the debate to an even more extreme extent but Facebook deleted my cartoon before the debate could begin.
Has an incident like this, in which some authorities deleted your cartoon because they thought it was wrong, happened before?
No, something like this had never happened earlier. This was certainly a shock for me. Of course, I have not done anything to deserve this kind of action. This was something which was really new. But this is great experience. Everyone gets a new experience or education at some point of time. So it was kind of an education or experience for me.
Now, I found out how they treat people and artists. As I had told you earlier, an artist’s work often becomes document or history. And the fact that they tried deleting that should tell us that everyone should be concerned about the safety of their work and the platform which they choose so that others respect and understand their work. That’s why I was shocked when this happened.