Ashish Sewgoolam
Ashish Sewgoolam

India, cricket and religion = Clickbait 101

I really didn’t want to play the “offended Hindu card” and write about Zaprio’s now infamous Sunday Times Cricket South Africa (CSA) cartoon but after numerous debates I’ve taken the plunge …

Zapiro’s cartoon depicts Haroon Lorgat, the suspended CSA chief executive, bound to a sacrificial altar and about to be “steeked” by two CSA officials in penance to Lord Ganesha who has his BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) crown on and cricket bat and money in hand(s).

There are a myriad of things that one could profess to be offended about in this cartoon satirising CSA’s blind obedience to and fear of the BCCI causing them to sacrifice their chief executive, but here’s a short list I came up with to help those still climbing on the bandwagon:

  • How dare they insult Hinduism and mock our God?!
  • This shows a lack of respect for our religious beliefs!
  • You cannot depict a deity and claim it as a metaphor!
  • Imagine what would have happened if he drew the Prophet Muhammad (he already did by the way) and offended the Muslims!
  • How disgusting and disrespectful is it to show a human sacrifice to Ganesha?!

I’m sure there was a lot more said on Sunday morning when people saw it for the first time, and then again when every aunty in the neighbourhood got wind of it — remember, everyone is entitled to their view.

Personally I do not have any issue with Zapiro expressing himself the way he does, steering clear of nothing in his globally acclaimed satire. I have had the pleasure of meeting the man and seeing him present and talk about his work, including pieces that have landed him in water that is a lot hotter than this tepid brew. He is an artist and art in this day and age should be allowed to be liberal.

That said, looking at the cartoon objectively, he didn’t have to bring religion into this at all. The CSA and BCCI are just two parties at loggerheads with each other and the one is bowing to the other’s demands. Yes the cartoon would have been equally effective and far less offensive if he drew Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the president of the BCCI on the throne accepting the sacrifice instead of a specific deity. Yes it is a gross generalisation that the BCCI and all its members are Hindu. Although all of this is true to varying degrees, all of it is irrelevant. As an artist he expressed himself in a way he saw fit and I have no issue with that.

What I do have a problem with is Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt allowing this go to print and then issuing a statement saying:

“To read the cartoon as an expression of disrespect to Hinduism is to misconstrue the point … we do not, however, believe the use of Hindu iconography in Zapiro’s cartoon amounts to disrespect.”

As an editor, particularly of a national newspaper that has a diverse demographic following, it is your responsibility and duty to ensure that the material you publish is not offensive, deliberately or by mistake, and degrading to people’s religious beliefs and cultures. There is no way that you could tell me that the above did not cross her mind when reviewing this cartoon.

Nevertheless it was published and the backlash ensued. It is also an editor’s duty to take responsibility and handle reader complaints. What surprised me was not that she defended the publication and the cartoonist, but that she essentially said that Hindus who are offended have “misconstrued the point” and basically told them that it is not disrespectful. Firstly you cannot tell somebody how to interpret a cartoon from only your point of view and that only yours is correct. The image is open to interpretation by every individual who sees it and if only your interpretation is correct, it may as well have been spelled out in words instead of using a cartoon. Secondly you cannot tell somebody who practices and understands a religion or faith far better than you do what is disrespectful and what isn’t — particularly when their deity is depicted.

She went on to say that “the cartoon made no comment on Hinduism or on Lord Ganesha”. Obviously it did! It is blatantly clear that the Hindu deity is depicted in the cartoon, and that alone creates the link to Hinduism, even if the intent was as a metaphor. Again, the BCCI/CSA issue never involved religion so this brought something completely unrelated to the matter into the cartoon and to the fore as the “hero”. Saying that it made no comment on Hinduism is ludicrous.

Continuing the theme of ludicrous statements, we have: “Ganesha was depicted in the cartoon as a symbol of the BCCI and was chosen because of the deity’s strong association with India.” This is by far the most ridiculous comment in the statement she gave. To clarify and reiterate, not all Indians are Hindu; all Hindus are not from India; the BCCI is not representative of India; cricket, despite the mass following in India, is not a religion. With that in mind, read her statement again and ask yourself how an editor of a national newspaper can make such a comment.

Being an individual who enjoys good satire, it seems the decision to publish this was for the sake of being controversial and getting some talkability. There was no religious link whatsoever to the story that was being satirised but the result is multiple complaints being lodged by religious bodies, articles such as this being written and a whole lot of publicity for the Sunday Times. There’s a big difference between being provocative to get some media attention versus getting a point across. This seems to be the former. If the objective was to make a dying medium (print) a national talking point for a day or two, it certainly achieved it. If that was the objective, the subsequent loss in integrity seems a far greater price to pay. Controversy for the sake of exposure is really stooping to low levels to sell and be newsworthy. The mentality of “let’s print that, it will be controversial and get us some attention” is the lowest form of journalism … “clickbait” in print.

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    • Neil

      Religious bashing is the new vogue when it comes to selling your media. It used to be pretty girls and fast cars, now it’s atheists telling religious types how stupid and wrong they are, and media like this cartoon making fun of them. It’s quite savvy. Just spend a day on the News24 blog section. It’s quite funny.

      The atheist posts an article bashing christianity, the atheist support crew posts about how awesome and insightful it is, while continuing to the rhetoric of how stupid the christian is.

      You goad everybody at some level. Much more so than on a ‘desire’ level.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Satire is the depiction of a political event in pictorial form. Which form would you have used to be instantly recognizable as the supreme gate keeper for an Indian organisation? Would the deity concerned be more angry at the artist or at the actions depicted by the artist?

      I find religion to be a very confusing subject. If someone could enlighten me as to the above questions, I would be grateful

    • suntosh

      A fair critique Ashish.

      – ” looking at the cartoon objectively, he didn’t have to bring religion into this at all.”
      There are no objective interpretive lenses in art, especially a cartoon of a symbolic representation (a deity) that also in a sense a subjective material depiction of something highly transpersonal.

      – “it is [the editor’s] responsibility and duty to ensure that the material… is not offensive”
      Not really. There is nothing inherently wrong with offending people. The litmus test is usually, ‘does it incite violence or amount to hate speech?’. No it doesn’t.

      – “The image is open to interpretation by every individual who sees it”

    • http://Nil Goodman

      The fundamental problem is that Zapiro and the real controllers at the Sunday times are extremely disappointed at the loss of their privileges even though some of them claim to have had ‘struggle credentials’. This also explains the hatred they have for the country’s president. Suggested reading – link:


    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      I think you’re still transfixed on lauding this artistic freedom of expression rather than seeing it for what it is and what the point of in my post is – it’s clickbait.

      Clickbait to get you and I talking about it, the cartoonist and the publication in the guise of drawing attention to a cricket related issue most of South didn’t really care about. This was done by bringing the completely unrelated topic of Hinduism into the cartoon as the hero of the piece, which in itself was a gross generalisation.

      All it served to do was be provocative and get certain communities riled up based on the disrespect shown towards their religion. Subsequently, we have a an entire week worth of stories, articles and it has even crossed the Indian Ocean to make news in India. Clickbait 101.

    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      Momma Cyndia,
      In my piece I’ve actually said exactly who I’d have used:
      “the cartoon would have been equally effective and far less offensive if he drew Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the president of the BCCI on the throne accepting the sacrifice instead of a specific deity.”
      Srinavasan is literally the supreme gate keeper of the BCCI, the specific organisation in question.
      I’ve also said that “as an artist he expressed himself in a way he saw fit and I have no issue with that.”

    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      @Neil, I can’t disagree with you. It is shameful that the media has stooped to that level. Deliberately publishing material to cause debate in an age where almost everyone has a platform to voice their opinions.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Ashish Sewgoolam #

      The person is completely unknown in South Africa. It would be like you using a caricature of Khanyi Mbau in an Indian satire about South Africa – nobody would get it. What imagery would you use so that it was unmistakably Indian?

      Haroon Lorgat is, if I am not horribly mistaken, known as ‘the gatekeeper’.