In this series, Women In Power, we feature women who have done groundbreaking work in the field of Gender, Sexuality, Women’s Rights and the likes to get an insight into their lives and their work. More and more people are joining the feminist movement and working on Gender and we wish to bring them in the limelight, one life at a time.

Karnika Kahen, the cartoon character was born when Kanika Mishra was feeling very angry after reading that Asaram, the self-proclaimed god-man, has sexually abused a minor girl. Asaram, the same man who a few months back gave this statement that Jyoti, the rape victim of 2012 case, should have called the rapists “Bhaiyaa” or she should have recited the “guru-mantra” to save herself. To express her anger, she made a series of cartoons on Asaram and published it on her Facebook and Twitter page Karnika Kahen.

Within a week, her cartoons went viral and were published by various news and media publications. She started receiving hate speech and threats from Asaram’s followers.

We caught Kanika candid on how it feels to be an outspoken woman in today’s times.

1. Tell us your story and how did you start making cartoons?

I started making cartoons in my first year of graduation. I didn’t have a good political understanding at that time, so I used to develop a cartoon strip for children. It got published in Swatantra Bharat, Lucknow.

2. As a beginner, what challenges did you face especially  because you were doing something which is unconventional?

The biggest challenge was that nobody took my seriously when I went for the job of a political cartoonist. Instead, they would offer me a job of an illustrator or a graphic designer. I used that time learning new designing software and animation techniques.

3. What made you and how did you start Karnika Kahen?

On 31 August, 2013 I heard this news that police was searching for Asaram and he had gone underground. Obviously, his regressive comments about Jyoti that she should have called those rapists “Bhaiyaa” or should have recited a guru-mantra to save her dignity and life, was a reason enough to fill me with a burning rage. I just wanted to express myself. Being a female, it was obvious that my character would be a girl or woman. So, I can say that ‘Karnika Kahen’ was born out of my anger and rage.

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4. Tell us more about your character Karnika and how has it grown?

She is an aam ladki, a common girl or an everyday woman who speaks without fear. She is aware about her political and social surrounding and believes in an India which is above any cast, community or religion . She is positive and hopeful, but keeps a sharp eye on the reality which is very dark in these times.

5. Is your character Karnika a feminist and views society from that lens?

Hmmmm! Frankly speaking, I don’t know. If being a girl makes her one, then may be. Karnika is very sensitive about issues related to women but she is not limited to women’s issues, Karnika Kahen is about a female’s point of view about every social and political issue in the country and all over the world. But, I can say, I have seen, that many a times, when other cartoonists ignore an incident like woman burned by her husband because she kissed a leader or man tried to kill her wife because she didn’t fast for his long life, I was deeply pained by those incidents and made a cartoon on them. Karnika very well knows that women are not treated well in this country and stands by them.

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6. Please tell us about the awards and recognition you have received.

I recently won an award for Courage in Cartooning from Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI). CRNI has been working to protect the rights of cartoonists for the last 21 years. I feel very proud about it. In fact, I’m the first woman in the world to win this award.

7. Given the recent fatal attacks on Charlie Hebdo, we would like to know your thoughts on the thin line of difference between freedom of expression and hate speech?

My argument is that art doesn’t hurt anyone. If you don’t like it, ignore it. If you are not able to ignore it, take a legal action. But killing someone because you are offended is a very cowardly and stupid act. An artist needs to express herself/ himself and push the envelope or the society will die choking with the suffocation.

Director of CRNI Dr. Robert ‘Bro’ Russell really put it well, “When we talk about what cartoonists should or shouldn’t do we are getting off topic. The topic is killers who kill cartoonists. The questions are what should we be drawing, the questions are who should be rounding up and handling these killers. Who funds them? What banks did they do business with? What kinds of people send the money? Why do the young people who get involved with them get involved with them?

Talking about “hate speech“, that is a completely different issue. It comes with a motive and our so-called leaders use it as a powerful weapon.

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8. Have you faced any threats so far given your cartoons are quite political at times?

Yes, I have faced all kind of threats (rape, murder) when I made cartoons on Asaram. His followers sent me messages, called me on phone and finally hacked my social media accounts and stole vital information. They threatened to misuse it, if I do not pull down the cartoon. Finally, I lodged a complaint in Mumbai Cyber Crime cell, local police station and then in a few days the severity of threats decreased. But, I still receive  abuses and messages when I make political cartoons from followers who don’t like my cartoons.

9. How do you see Karnika grow from here?

I want to raise issues like lack of hygiene, like people spitting free on road and in parks, adulteration in milk and other food. In fact, I have already scripted 10 webisodes for an animated Karnika Kahen series. We are working on this cartoon for last one and half years without earning a single penny and have already exhausted all our saving and now I’m taking loans. I wish that I find some sponsors very soon.

10. What message would you like to give to the women out there?

Just express yourself, speak your mind and it will open new roads for you! You are most powerful and you just have to realize it! You are AWESOME!


Kanika’s work is spread across various social media channels including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and she can be contacted on her website.

Disclaimer: All the images have been used from the author’s website with due permission.

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