Kanika Mishra: Social Media as a Vehicle for Free Speech and Empowerment

Known for her cartoons on social and political issues in India—especially those that relate to Indian women—cartoonist Kanika Mishra has gained significant recognition for her use of social media as a vehicle for freedom of expression. Earlier this year, Mishra gave a talk at TEDxYouth@OIS, during which she spoke about the challenges that women face, as well as the empowerment that they gain when using sites like Facebook and Twitter to express themselves.

Since a young age, Mishra has wanted to be a cartoonist. As she witnessed social injustices occurring in her country, she found cartooning a poignant way to express herself and her point of view. Although Mishra now has a large portfolio of work, she has become most recognized for her cartoons that challenge guru Asaram Bapu, who has been accused of raping a 16-year-old girl and has made inflammatory statements regarding a gang rape in India that resulted in the death of the victim. The accusations and comments inspired the creation of Mishra’s popular cartoon character Karnika Kahan.

The “common girl of India,” Mishra uses Karnika Kahan to talk about these difficult subjects in a way that audiences have come to embrace and support. During the TEDxYouth@OIS talk, Mishra recalls young boys approaching her after reading her cartoons and stating “You’re so brave. You’re doing the right thing. You’re my hero, I want to be like you.”

Although people around the world and free speech organizations like Cartoonists Rights Network International firmly stand behind Mishra and her work, others have not been so kind. With the publishing of her cartoons criticizing Bapu, Mishra has become the victim of death threats, social media hackings, and censorship. When Mishra approached authorities to report the death threats, they told her she should stop cartooning. Just recently, Mishra’s cartoon criticizing Indian Minister Maneka Gandhi’s statements about India’s inability to criminalize marital rape was pulled down by Facebook.

Despite these obstacles through, Mishra continues to produce her important work — work that led to her receiving the 2014 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning and has garnered her international recognition through numerous media channels. “Why should I stop making cartoons?,” said Mishra in her TEDxYout@OIS presentation. “Because I’m living in a democratic country, I have the right to express myself and nobody can stop me to express myself.”

During her talk, Mishra recounts the challenges that she has faced not only as a cartoonist, but as a female cartoonist in India. She reminds viewers, though, that it is important to hold on to your right to freedom of expression and use whatever vehicle you have available to make your voice heard. “I really want to thank social media which gave me this opportunity, this great form to express myself and my passion of my life — my childhood dream.”

Just as social media has given her the space to express herself freely, Mishra believes that the internet is a valuable tool for all women to find their voice and become “empowered” to speak out and follow their dreams. Furthermore, Mishra sees the internet as a space for audiences to discover. At the end of her presentation, Mishra urges the audience to “find” new people on the internet, “listen” to their stories and perspectives, but most importantly “respect” their different points of view.

Check out her full TEDx Talk presentation below!

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!