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.
She says, she’s not an artist. I may beg to differ. 23-year old Rachita Taneja is popularly known for her comic series titled Sanitary Panels. Started in May 2014 as a response to people getting arrested for posting their opinion online under the IT Act Section 66A, Sanitary Panels has grown into a popular and viral comic on social media. Drawn with a black and white doodle-style, Sanitary Panels has a simple and easy to read format. Although Rachita says, this style has its own restrictions. She has to draw a figure with long hair to show its a woman, which defeats the purpose of talking about Gender.
Rachita works with an NGO as a human rights campaigner and has been very passionate about gender equality and environmentalism. Apart from making comics in her free time she likes to read and keep up to date on the news.
I caught Rachita candid on how it feels to be a woman and a comic artist posting her opinion online.
What made you start Sanitary Panels?
It was entirely a personal project to begin with — I was annoyed by politicians trying to curb free speech. So I doodled a comic around it in a few minutes which showed how political leaders were trying to curb Freedom of Speech through Section 66A and Sanitary Panels came to life.
It was, initially, a way to express my thoughts and opinions on and cope with all the information around me and share it with my family and friends. It grew beyond that when a few comics went a bit viral on Facebook. Thereafter, I continued creating doodles around current affairs issues, politics, inequality I saw around me, but sexism and gender inequality have by far been the topics I’ve covered the most.
The name sounds very interesting, what is the idea behind it?
I’m not entirely sure how the name came up to be honest, I was just sitting around one evening with my brother and a friend and we started throwing around names. I wanted the name to be confrontational, and we zeroed in on this name. Maybe there were some pads lying around.
What style do you follow and what is the inspiration behind your comics?
I’m not an artist, but I love writing and have always been fascinated by comics, following loads of them online regularly. The pattern or style hasn’t been directly inspired by something or someone, to be honest, I don’t think it was a deliberate decision but just something that was easy. Now, I think it’s a style on its own and I’m sticking around with it!
Besides gender inequality and rampant sexism, what all topics do you cover and want to do in future?
Some other social justice issues Sanitary Panels has dealt with in the past include net neutrality, environmentalism, freedom of speech and sex education. I haven’t really limited myself to speak about a certain issue at a certain point, in fact, a lot of the people who like my page suggest issue areas for me to cover so it’s very open in terms of what gets covered. There are also some non-social justice issues I’ve made comics on, such as, one on how much I love puppies and another one on how much I dislike people cutting queues.
Which are your other Indian as well as international favourite comics?
My personal favorites include Royal Existential and Crocodile in Water, Tiger on Land from India and xkcd and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (smbc) internationally. I have half a dozen favorites from print comics.
Do you think there is a thin line of difference between freedom of expression and hate speech?
It’s a loaded question but I basically think that you need to be extremely aware of what impact your content can have, both positive and negative. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that laws pertaining to hate speech in India leave room for subjectivity, making it a dangerous tool against freedom of expression, and has been used to shut down discourse, often by the powerful.
Given how curbed freedom of speech is, how do you imagine the future of satirical comics?
I imagine it’s only going to get more intense. The internet has given us so much space to push for our opinions to be heard and shared that there’s way too much dialogue to try to curb or shut down. With Section 66A out the door for now, we need to be vigilant of what other ways and means can be used to silence us and make a big deal about them like we’ve done so well in the past.
Do you receive threats or hate mails, given your comics are quite political?
I’ve received very graphic messages threatening sexual violence against me in the comments sections of other pages that have shares my comics in the past. Apart from that, it has mostly been civil on the Sanitary Panels Facebook page.
How do you see Sanitary Panels grow from here?
For now, I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing for a year, which is regularly making comics. A few websites have approached me to feature or carry Sanitary Panels so let’s see where that goes!
What message would you like to give out to other political cartoonists?
There’s not much I have to say apart from keep doing what you’re doing and that I’m happy to receive feedback 🙂
Disclaimer: All images have been used from Sanitary Panel’s Facebook page with the interviewee’s permission.