Rachita Taneja

Telling the truth in just a few clear lines 

Indian artist Rachita Taneja’s stick-figure cartoons are deceptively simple. However, just these few clear lines, accompanied with some carefully chosen words, have brought her before the highest court in the land. Now, she is possibly facing prison.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Indian cartoonist Rachita Taneja, as she says in the documentary Drawing a Line. ‘The funniest one is that I am a man,’ she says. ‘I don’t know where it comes from. I guess it’s just good old-fashioned misogyny.’ In her popular web comic Sanitary Panels, Rachita’s work is rooted in a strong social and political conscience. ‘My comics sometimes come from a place of anger,’ she says. ‘When I see something that feels unjust to me, I’m going to make a comic about it.’ It may come as no surprise that before she started drawing cartoons, she worked at Greenpeace.

Amid an increasing government crackdown on press freedom and freedom of speech in India, Rachita bravely takes on the Hindu-nationalistic ideology promoted by the current Modi government. As a result, she is subjected to threats and vile trolling. ‘There are rape threats, death threats, threats of violence against my loved ones,’ she says. ‘There’s the fear that one day I walk up to my balcony and there’s a group of people just waiting there to do what they’ve promised, which is to hurt me.’

Immediately at the start of the documentary, it becomes apparent that the film will not be an easy project. ‘You’ll have to send a copy of this script to my lawyer,’ Rachita tells the filmmaker. The reason: Rachita is facing legal problems because of cartoons she made about the Supreme Court. It caused her to be charged with ‘contempt of court’, for which she could go to prison. Her lawyer advises strongly against showing these comics or discussing their contents in the film. ‘It’s just stick figures,’ she notes, surprised. ‘How is the highest court in the largest democracy in the world talking about my stick figures?’

Drawing a Line is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2024, where Rachita Taneja will be a special guest.