NEW DELHI Beloved Japanese manga character Doraemon might seem to be an unlikely source of serious controversy.
But in India and Pakistan, the chubby blue robotic cat has become a target of bitter criticism from some politicians and social activists. They are campaigning to ban the popular character from television.
In late July, Ashish Chaturvedi, 29, a prominent social activist in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, sent a letter to various organizations urging them to ban the Doraemon anime series. The recipients of the letter included the central government, the state government, a self-censorship organization for entertainment programs, and two broadcasters airing the Doraemon series, including Disney India.
The letter enumerates examples of bad influences the TV series is having on children in India. It claims, for instance, that many children have acquired some of the bad traits of one of the central characters, Nobita, a silly and unmotivated preteen boy. Doraemon is continually having to help the hapless Nobita get out of various scrapes. In the letter, Chaturvedi alleges that children emulating Nobita have started refusing to do their homework and speaking to their parents and teachers impolitely. He also criticizes Nobita for openly saying to a girl in his class, "I like you very much."
This is no laughing matter in the conservative country. In an interview with The Nikkei, Chaturvedi said a recent major scandal prompted him to launch the campaign to banish the cartoon cat.
In 2013, it was revealed that huge numbers of young people had bribed fixers and political operatives to rig the official examinations for highly coveted government jobs and admissions to state-run colleges in Madhya Pradesh. The scandal led to 2,000 arrests, according to a local newspaper.
Chaturvedi himself blew the whistle on the scam.
"SCANDALOUS" CONTENT He visited numerous families to identify the direct and indirect causes of the scandal and heard mothers complain that their children had started behaving badly after watching the Doraemon series. The mothers said their children had begun to defy their parents and refuse to do their homework.
Chaturvedi became convinced that the anime series is having a serious negative impact on the future of children for two reasons. Firstly, it takes children into an unrealistic fantasy world. Secondly, it shows children that any problem can be solved by gadgets that Doraemon takes out of his famous "4D Pocket," such as an "anywhere door" that opens to wherever the user wants to go, and a "bamboo copter" that allows the user to fly.
The activist is concerned that the anime series could plant the seeds of another test-fixing scandal.
In early August, soon after Chaturvedi sent out his letter, an opposition politician in Pakistan's Punjab Province submitted a resolution to the local assembly calling for a ban or restriction on the broadcasting of the Doraemon series.
The politician is a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a political party led by former national cricket star Imran Khan.
Mehmood ur Rashid, a senior PTI member, told The Nikkei that the TV ban on Doraemon is the politician's personal proposal, not the party's.
But he nevertheless expressed critical views about the anime. In each episode of the show, a gadget does what the student should do himself. This could cause children to develop a tendency to depend on help from others instead of trying to solve problems on their own, Rashid argued.
He also pointed out that the Hindi-language version of the series that is aired in India is broadcast in Pakistan instead of a new version dubbed into Urdu, the local language. The fact that Nobita plays happily with Shizuka, a girl in his class at school, is another factor that runs counter to Pakistani and Muslim culture, according to the politician.
But the focus of criticism is the 4D Pocket, which contains a tool to solve every problem.
DIFFERENT CONTEXTS The Doraemon manga series, written and illustrated by the Fujiko Fujio manga artist duo, was first published in 1969 during the era of Japan's phenomenal economic growth. It raised exciting expectations among Japanese children that they would see amazing new technologies and unimaginable new products in the near future.
But many Doraemon episodes also offer the lesson that no tool, however powerful and convenient, can be an answer to all problems. These episodes were designed to teach children that they were destined to keep making mistakes unless they became wise. Nobita is therefore considered a good example of what not to do and how not to behave.
In India and Pakistan, where the Doraemon TV series started broadcasting a decade before, the cartoon cat is hugely popular. The "Ban Doraemon" campaign could also be a reaction to its popularity.
But there are some differences in the social context between the Japan in the early days of Doraemon and today's world, which already has technologies and products similar to a few anticipated by the manga series.
The product most symbolic of the show's technological future is the smartphone.
Holding his own smartphone in his hand, Rashid said he was concerned that Doraemon's influence could make children dependent on these kinds of gadgets and neglect their studies.
In India, where there is a wide income gap, wealthy parents tend to play the role of Doraemon for their children, solving any of their problems using the convenient "gadgets" of money and social connections. The scandal uncovered by Chaturvedi is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
As the self-censorship body has rejected Chaturvedi's request for a ban, he said he is considering taking the case to court. Pakistan's Punjab provincial assembly was to discuss the matter in October before all Indian-made programs were taken off the air in mid-October due to worsening bilateral ties.
It may seem absurd to place all the blame for many social and educational problems on a fictional cat. Nevertheless, it is worth watching how the anti-Doraemon campaigns in the two countries develop.