Friday, May 20, 2016

‘Do Your Art in Hindi not in Urdu’- Cultural Censors Tell Artists in Delhi

(The Tweet in Urdu, as a part of the Thomas Ellis' 'Dilli I love you' Project)

Yesterday Prime Minister Modi was thankful to the people of India for choosing the BJP in Assam and helping to make a ‘Congress Free’ India. Amit Shah, the President of the BJP exuded confidence that the Hindu consolidation was already happening for the general elections slated to take place in 2019. Prime Minister reiterated that the ‘ideology’ of the present government has gone down well with the people of this country. Definitely, the mandate of yesterday was not for the BJP though the vote share has increased and there are reasons for both Mr.Modi and Mr.Shah to imagine this increase in vote share is for their developmental agenda. Despite this optimism and public posture of goodness of the top leaders, the fringe elements of the Hindutva party seem to have not got the ‘right’ message. They are still on a rampage to iron out cultural and aesthetical differences by intimidating and threatening artists. The latest incident has just taken place a few hours back in East Delhi’s Shahdra area.

 (The vandalized street art in Shahdra)

Two Spanish artists and an Indian artist were painting a wall that belonged to the Delhi Jal Board (Delhi Water Authority) in Shahdra as a part of the much talked about ‘Dilli I love You’ project by the French Television journalist and film maker, Thomas Ellis. While at it, they were stopped and abused by a mob of around hundred people who claimed themselves as the protectors of Hindu religion. The artists were taken to the police station and were released once the Aam Aadmi Party leader and Law Minister in the Delhi Cabinet, Kapil Misra intervened on their behalf. According to one of the artists, Akhlaq Ahmed, the ‘incident was shocking’ because the intention of the artists was to spread the message of love. What provoked the crowd, which was deliberately gathered through phone calls and whatsapp messages, was the language in which the artists were trying to put the message across. The language that they chose to write was ‘Urdu’.

 (One could see the Urdu line over painted)

‘Delhi had fallen down once but it got up and regained its dignity. This city is unparalleled’ is the rough translation of the Urdu ‘tweet’ that the artists painted against the backdrop of Delhi’s Lotus Temple. “What provoked them was the language,” says Akhlaq. They were demanding to change it into Hindi. “They were just abusing the foreign artists and I requested them to abuse me and spare them as they don’t understand Hindi expletives,” says a soft spoken Akhlaq. “They turned to me and started patronizing me. They said that I was an Indian and I should have stopped them from using Urdu,” Akhlaq says. The crowd grew within minutes and they forcefully over painted the Urdu writing and literally white washed the tweet. “They were liberally throwing colors on the wall and spoiling what we had done.” In the meanwhile someone dialed 100 and Police came and took the artists to the station.

 (permission granted certificate by the Delhi Jal Board for the street art project)

A lover of Delhi, Ellis initiated this project earlier this year and his idea is to capture the lives and times of Delhi, its people’s narratives, faces, life styles through various mediums including street art. Forty walls were chosen and Akhlaq Ahmed, celebrated young street artist was selected to lead the team of artists including the visiting foreign artists. Their idea is to paint forty ‘tweet messages’ on Delhi’s prominent walls. “The permission was already given in official writing. We showed it to the mob. But they were determined to spoil our work,” says Akhlaq. The police were however polite to the artists, perhaps because of the political intervention by the Minister himself. “The policemen offered us cold drinks and insisted that we should lunch with them, which we refused,” Akhlaq smiles. May be in the larger scheme of things, this incident is a passable one, but the implications are too strong to neglect. Monopolizing and steamrolling of culture starts with censorship by the violent mobs unchecked by the law and order systems. Systemic ruining of culture takes place first in streets and it may not take much time to reach the gates of our Museums and other cultural establishments. We need to be aware and alert on this. 

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