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'Facebook Took Away My Right To Free Speech By Deleting Afzal Guru Cartoon'

28/02/2016 8:24 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Mir Suhail Qadiri

By Abhimanyu Singh

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Mir Suhail Qadiri, a 26-year-old cartoonist with the Srinagar-based publication Rising Kashmir is disturbed over Facebook's removal of his cartoon on the hanging of alleged militant Afzal Guru. This, he says, is a blatant attempt to put an end to the debate over the controversial execution. Although wary of making any overt political statement, Qadiri adds that Guru was a militant for some and a martyr for others.

"Through my cartoon, I wanted to take the debate to the world. I violated nothing by making that cartoon. It was a question I asked through my art and I sought an answer. However, they removed it. Now I am scared of posting anything on Facebook. I do have access to other media where I can share my work but I can't rely on Facebook anymore," says Qadiri who has more than 30,000 followers on the social networking site.

I tried to show the connection between [Afzal Guru's] hanging and the people of Kashmir.

He adds that by removing the cartoon, Facebook has tried to deprive him of his right to participate in the debate regarding Afzal Guru's hanging, among other issues.

"People don't understand that I live in Kashmir. I am suffering too due to the political situation here. I am a common person. I don't go to work in an AC office. My work exposes me and my family to threats from militants. My work is not created in isolation. I make the cartoons after speaking to concerned persons and stakeholders. You have to understand that there is a dispute over Kashmir," asserts Qadiri, who lives with his family in Srinagar.

Qadiri's cartoon depicting the hanging of Afzal Guru -- in an oblique, metaphorical way -- was removed by Facebook, to start with. Subsequently, the social media giant whose founder, Mark Zuckerberg, met PM Narendra Modi a while ago amidst great fanfare, blocked Qadiri's account. Qadiri tells Youth Ki Awaaz that his cartoon was "emotional" in nature and not a "provocative" one. "I tried to show the connection between his hanging and the people of Kashmir," he clarifies.

This is a democratic country which allows me the right to freedom of expression. The same laws apply to Facebook too.

Guru was hanged on 9 February 2013, having been found guilty of orchestrating an attack on India's Parliament. However, his hanging was mired in controversy, with several commentators pointing out that it was done in haste and, allegedly, in contravention of judicial precedent. Following his death, Guru has acquired the status of a martyr for the cause of Kashmir's independence although many in India, especially right-wing forces, consider him to be a terrorist.

Qadiri says that studied fine arts at a Srinagar-based institute and has been a cartoonist for the past nine years.

"It has been a long struggle for me to establish myself. Many people don't agree with my cartoons. I receive threats and abuses often. Debates also take place concerning my cartoons on social media. This removal of a cartoon happened for the first time. It was sudden and I don't understand how it took place. My medium is art. That's how I ask questions. This is a democratic country which allows me the right to freedom of expression. The same laws apply to Facebook too. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone in future," he says.

Why should we look at the issue only from one angle? Debate is a good thing.

Recently, journalist Rahul Pandita, a Kashmiri Pandit, flagged a cartoon by Qadiri in a piece he wrote, questioning its content. When asked about it, Qadiri said that Pandita was a Kashmiri, like himself, and he did not mind the latter's response. "Why should we look at the issue only from one angle? Others responded to the cartoon in their own ways. He wrote about it. It is fine by me. Debate is a good thing. One should not talk about things behind others' backs. If there are any complaints, we should talk it out," Qadiri says.

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