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The Hindu Comic of Amar Chitra Katha and Bhimayana, the Epic Tale of the Dispossessed: A Comparison of Empowerments

Shweta Basu

Master of Arts, Department of English, Presidency University, Kolkata

Volume 2, Number 2, 2017 I Full Text PDF

Article DOI:  10.21659/bp.v2n2.09

As most of us already know, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956), was a jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who also supported the rights of women and labour.  He was Independent India’s first law minister and the principal architect of the Constitution of India. Among the many socio-political activities of this prolific scholar was campaigning and negotiating for India’s independence, publishing journals, advocating political rights and social freedom for Dalits, and contributing significantly to the establishment of the state of India. Popularly known as Baba Saheb[i], Ambedkar, born amongst the untouchable Mahar caste is more or less a messiah among Dalits[ii], today who are totaling between 165 to 170 million, or about 17% of India’s population[iii], and according to Dorothy M. Figuiera, in her book * only 1% of whom were literate in his time (150). Under the circumstances, one of the many popular media adaptations of his life and works, Bhimayana, the “graphic book” by the publishing house of Navayana, did certainly have enough reason to be biased in his favour. Instead, the retelling of the chronicle of the hero, who is “typically underacknowledged in mainstream textbooks and popular media”[iv], takes place through factual reference, such as newspaper montage and conversational prose flowing with energy and logical fervor, both of which complement each other. The litany of humiliations is compelling because they belong to a range of social stratum, that we the modern Indians, in our upwardly mobile global venture of “Unity in Diversity”[v] fail to perceive. According to Prajna Desai in her review of Bhimayana in The Comics Journal, “Little Bhim’s acumen for unwitting irony mixes nicely with Ambedkar’s calm eye”[vi], interspersed with the conversation between the racist man in favour of caste-based discrimination, and the comparatively more learned, vocal and logical woman who undercuts his claims through insights into Ambedkar’s life and contemporary reality.

The ACK edition has a style that is strictly westernized comic-book like[vii]. The rigidly defined musculature of the characters, the dramatic portrayals of emotions and events through pan and zoom, the panels and speech bubbles, the font (Comic Sans), the colouring strategy using RGB and 8-bit colouring – everything about it feels like a foreign import dressed in an interpellated[viii] Indian-ness that is out of tune with the representation. Even the English used in narrativization, that in the background and the characters, is crisp and economical, and lacks emotion. All in all, the comic book emphasizes the individuality and iconic stature of Ambedkar as a leader of his people…Full Text PDF>>

[i] The cult website <https://drambedkarbooks.com/> dedicated to him and his teachings, works and analyses by other Dalit scholars, make him a live, digital phenomenon, that speaks of an alternative “Imagined Community” of learned Dalits, who harken not to the typical nationalist “Jai Hind” salutation, rather to “Jai Bhim”, in honour of the messiah of the Dalits.

[ii] Ambedkar’s fame as a champion of the causes of the marginalized has even made him into a global figure of aspiration and protest, as the Hindistan Times article shows, <http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/united-nations-describes-ambedkar-as-global-icon-for-marginalised-people/story-lLXxZpB1qAt43p8Xd7jcOJ.html>

[iii] <http://www.tcj.com/reviews/bhimayanaexperiencesofuntouchability/2/ >

[iv] <http://www.tcj.com/reviews/bhimayanaexperiencesofuntouchability/2/>

[v] Vincent A Smith, in his introduction to the Oxford History of India, 3rd Edition, 1958, p. viii. writes, “India offers unity in diversity… [the] underlying unity being less obvious than the superficial diversity, its nature and limitations merit exposition.” Is stereotyped into the oft quoted, propagandist phrase in history textbooks as merely “unity in diversity”, without the reference to Smith’s idea of India being “primarily a Hindu country” (p. 7).

[vi] <http://www.tcj.com/reviews/bhimayanaexperiencesofuntouchability/2/>

[vii] Comic book tradition cite Britannica/diamond comics, the why and the how of its relation to this project.

[viii]  Interpellation, a term coined by French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, describes the process by which ideology addresses the individual. For more on the topic, refer to <www.longwood.edu/staff/mcgeecw/notesoninterpellation.htm>