Originally appeared in the New Indian Express on September 18,2010.
SAFER INSIDE THE VIOLENCE THAN OUTSIDE
In September 2008, a young political cartoonist from Kashmir found out that he was safer in his violence-torn, curfew-bound home state than he was in Delhi. When serial bombs went off in Connought Place, Malik Sajad was immediately suspected of being a “terrorist” simply because he was at a cyber cafe checking his website, www.kashmirblackandwhite.com. The website, featuring Malik’s graphic novels, cartoons (for the Greater Kashmir newspaper) and other art, gave the cafe’s patrons the idea that the young man looking at a Kashmiri website that was plastered with motifs of guns, had to have something to do with the tragedy unfolding in their city. Despite producing his I.D. card and informing the police who had come to take him away that he was an artist who had been invited to install his exhibit at Delhi’s Habitat Center, Malik’s voice went unheard.
“I was terrified,” he confesses.
His experience led him to create the non-fictional graphic novella, Terrorism of Peace, in which he describes his encounter with Delhi Police- a shocking revelation of prejudice and public apathy. “I was screaming ‘I am a cartoonist. My exhibit is at Habit Center. Please, call the director’,” he says but no one did anything. Malik’s identity was eventually verified when he took the police to the Habit Center and showed them his exhibit. “I was thankful that I’d come to Delhi upon invitation,” he recalls, “and not just as a cartoonist on my own travels.”
Prior to Terrorism of Peace, Malik wrote and illustrated another graphic novella- Identity Card, which was originally published in the literary magazine Caravan in 2008. Again, drawing from personal experience, the story follows a young man on his way home immediately after a person was killed in a “fake encounter”. Stopped at a checkpost, Malik showed the police his ID card but the police were reluctant to believe the young 19-year old was actually a cartoonist. To buy his freedom, he drew a caricature of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to prove that he really was a cartoonist.
Malik Sajad, clearly, is no stranger to terror. Born and raised in Kashmir, he knows a reality beyond the sanitised versions that the media feeds the rest of the country. “There are many stories about Kashmir that go untold,” he says, “either because there isn’t an audience for them or because the media in unable to show you the full picture owing to restrictions. Graphic novels allow me to speak about my experience more authentically.”
More than that, Malik hopes his work will be a fresh voice speaking about the Kashmir issue. “No one really knows what Kashmiris go through outside Kashmir,” he says. Art, Malik believes, is another way of documenting history. “Using the visuals, you are using the heritage of indigenous artists to power the message which helps us preserve our heritage and also to innovate. Art also helps to provide an option on how to think about the conflict, and beauty and life of Kashmiris,” he explains.
Currently, Malik is working on a new graphic novel titled Endangered Species. Explaining the idea behind the project, Malik likens the Kashmiri people to endangered species. The story itself speaks about the recent incidents of stone pelting, which Kashmiris have taken to as a form of protest. “In the last two months 65 people, mainly kids, have been killed. I interviewed many of the stone pelters and people and the story is their emotion, their demands, their pain,” he says. An artistically experimental piece, Malik is replacing his characters’ human faces with that of the Kashmiri Stag or hangul- the national animal of Jammu and Kashmir.
At 23, Malik’s youth belies his experience and maturity. His unique voice and position as a young Kashmiri makes his stories all the more powerful and important.