A cartoon carried by Canadian publications showing under fire Indian-origin Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan stewing in a cauldron has sparked outrage among the Sikh community members who say it resembles images of Sikh religious figures who were tortured.
Sajjan, 46, recently faced a lot of flak and apologised publicly for overstating his role in Operation Medusa, a pivotal 2006 battle in Afghanistan, while speaking during his India visit last month. The Edmonton Sun and other Postmedia publications carried the controversial cartoon in which Sajjan is shown stewing in a cauldron with the label “lies”, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Postmedia later apologised for the political cartoon that sparked outrage among members of Alberta’s Sikh community. Critics say the caricature was offensive because it resembles images of historic Sikh religious figures who were tortured.
“I was really disgusted. And then I kind of felt sad as well that a prominent news outlet in the country would do so, and would play with the religious sensitivities of the community (which is) an integral part of the society here in Canada,” said Harpreet Gill, who is on the executive committee of Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha.
Gill was quoted as saying that the cartoon bears a “striking resemblance” to the 5th Sikh Guru Arjun Dev, who was forced to sit on a hot plate after speaking up for minorities. He said that the cartoon prompted similar criticism on social media in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, with demands for an apology.
The World Sikh Organisation of Canada said the Sun’s depiction of the defence minister resembled an iconic image of a martyr who was boiled to death. Harmen Singh Kandola, an Edmonton board member of the World Sikh Organisation, said the image immediately reminded him of a “famous iconic image from Sikh history” in which Bhai Daval Das, a follower of the ninth guru Tegh Bahadur, was boiled alive.
“This cartoon has caused many Sikhs discomfort due to its resemblance to the torture and death of Bhai Dayal Das,” said Kandola, explaining Das was persecuted for pursuing religious freedom for another faith group.
Kandola said it was unlikely the cartoonist was aware of the image’s cultural significance. But he emphasised that “it’s important to understand that type of context before making such statements, just in order to ensure that they don’t cause any unintended consequences.”
Postmedia responded to criticism in the Letters to the Editor section of the Calgary Sun, saying, “The cartoon was not meant to insult Sikhs. It was a pun on the minister stewing in his own lies. We’re sorry if it was misinterpreted.” The cartoonist, Tim Dolighan, did not respond to the controversy, the report said.