Toons in trying times

Basu Kshitij: CPN (Maoists), Nepali Congress and CPN (UML), and their respective slogans – people's republic, democratic socialism and 'people's multi-party democracy'
Abin Shrestha: A 238 year-old monarchy is checkmated by the April 2006 People's Movement 
Abin Shrestha: Post-election makeover
Vatsayan: Army man occupies editor's chair: Nepal's newsrooms under King Gyanendra's censorship regime following his 1 February 2005 coup
Rajesh KC: Blessings for the times. "May you
vote soon, may you escape extortion and looting, may the government rescue you if kidnapped, may you get petrol"
Rajesh KC: Alternate fuel provided by Kathmandu's street protests
Vatsayan: Schools countrywide were occupied by the armed forces or the Maoists during the insurgency
Vatsayan: Leaders play in the 'National Cooperative Band' leaving the Nepali citizen in the lurch
Rabin Sayami: The hammer is replaced by an axe and two khukuris, making the acronym for the CPN (Maoist)'s Young Communist League

The underappreciated achievements of Nepali satire. It is a pungent twist of fate that people tend to be at their most creative and fearless precisely at those moments when such traits threaten to put them at risk. Over the past several years, this incongruous truism has certainly been borne out by the cartoonists of Nepal. After Gyanendra, then king, seized absolute control of all state powers on 1 February 2005, uniformed army personnel became an all-powerful presence in newsrooms across the country. Yet even with such harsh censorship underway, cartoonists drew ingenious lines to criticise the takeover, with their satire often leading protests by the media. Considering the very short history of Nepali cartooning and its previously marginal role in even the country's incipient journalism, this was indeed noteworthy.

During the People's Movement of April 2006 against autocratic rule, cartoonists again played a critical collective role in articulating public sentiment and commenting on the limitations of the fragile Eight-Party Alliance of political parties, which included the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Yet even after the People's Movement was successful, the period immediately following proved to be a time of great uncertainty. Negotiations between the Maoists and the rest of the political parties over the conditions necessary for the former to commit to aboveground politics were often at breaking point. The threat of renewed conflict loomed large over the people.

Elections to the Constituent Assembly were eventually held on 10 April 2008, and the monarchy was abolished within weeks. Nonetheless, today many of the pre-election problems continue unresolved: power struggles between and within political parties are ongoing even while the dissatisfied communities in the hills and plains seek to find a political voice amidst populism; shortages of essential products, ranging from cooking gas to water to electricity, remain a reality; and a functional law-and-order mechanism is yet to be implemented. Over the last two years, in particular, Nepal's cartoonists have commented on these issues and more with great insight, empathy and humour, capturing both the elation and frustrations of the people. As the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has very uncomfortably joined the 'political establishment' following its electoral win, again it is the cartoonists who are ahead of civil society and their media colleagues with their lampoons and send-ups.

Because political discourse and its coverage in Nepal take place overwhelmingly in the Nepali language, the power and vibrancy of Nepali editorial cartoons are not appreciated enough in the rest of Southasia. In order to recognise this genre of Nepali editorial cartoons, Himal Southasian organised an exhibition of noted cartoonist Durga Baral (Vatsayan), and four other well-known Nepali cartoonists, Abin Shrestha, Basu Kshitij, Rabin Sayami and Rajesh K C, from 14-22 November in Kathmandu. The cartoonists were asked to select their own favourite cartoons from recent times, and we present here a selection of the exhibited cartoons.

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Himal Southasian