A Bill Leak cartoon in the popular newspaper The Australian, depicting starved Indians eating solar panels has led to international criticism and outrage. Many have branded the cartoon as racist and rebuked it as a 1950s stereotype. However, the cartoon reportedly appeared in response to the Paris climate change conference. The cartoon shows an impoverished Indian family breaking solar panels into pieces and eating them. One even tries it with “mango chutney,” an Indian cuisine side dish.

According to NDTV India, after tough negotiations, USA, China and India finally agreed with the legal pact of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius; with a US$100 billion (AU$138.97 billion) per year from 2020 for helping developing nations. The International Solar Alliance initiative was also mooted by India. It was launched during the climate change talks.

The cartoon resulted in a social media outrage with Macquarie University associate professor of sociology Amanda Wise calling it shocking and absolutely unacceptable in Canada, UK and the US. Cartoonist David Pope from rival newspaper The Canberra Times condemned the cartoon and Rupert Murdoch’s national newspaper The Australian calling it “racist rubbish” and asking the question, “How backward is Aust #climate politics?” reports The Telegraph.

In Australia, Lisa Singh, the Tasmanian Labor senator, said that the cartoon was an insult to every Indian and shows the wrong impressions and ignorance some people have about India.

However, Paul Whittaker, The Australian’s new editor-in-chief defended the cartoon saying it was not targeted towards India or Indians. Instead, it targeted the climate change talks that will provide solar panels to poor people who are in need of other basic commodities such as “cheap power, aid and a hand up.”

“Those following the debates in and around the Paris conference run in our pages would have realised the target of the cartoon was not Indians. It was quite the opposite. Our readers would have - and, in fact, have - understood this,” Whittaker added, reports Sydney Morning Herald.

India has a rapidly developing renewable energy sector. Earlier this year, the nation reached 4GWs of solar capacity. During the recent climate change talks, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out the necessity for an agreement suitable for developing countries. He said that climate change is the result of developed countries’ fossil fuel propelled progress.

People criticised the cartoon both for the depiction of the characters as well as for incorrectly representing India as a technologically backward nation. The Bill Leak cartoon was named “Aid a la Mode.”

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