Monday, 30th October 2017

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Swachh devotees in Urdu cleansing

Artists forced to deface couplet praising Delhi

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 24.05.16

New Delhi, May 23: A French artist and an Indian associate commissioned by the Delhi government were forced by a crowd to deface their own wall-writing in praise of the capital in Urdu and replace it with the words "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan", one of the artists said.

The crowd was shouting slogans like "Jai Shri Ram" and calling the artists "Lahoris", artist Akhlaq Ahmad said. Urdu is one of the four official languages of Delhi while the other three are Hindi, Punjabi and English.

Last Thursday, the French artist and the Delhi-based Ahmad were painting an Urdu couplet on the wall of a Delhi Jal Board pumping station in northeast Delhi.

Their work is part of the #MyDilliStory project commissioned by the state government's art, culture and languages department. Artists collective Delhi I Love You (DILY), which is steering the project, has selected 40 couplets in the four languages to be painted on walls.

The Delhi wall with the Urdu letters painted over and replaced with the words “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” in Hindi

Written by Delhi University student Zeeshan Amjad, the couplet chosen for the Jal Board wall refers to the city being destroyed and rebuilt seven times. It says: " Dilli tera ujarna, aur phir ujar ke basna. Woh dil hai toone paya, sani nahi hai jiska (Oh Delhi, you were ruined and you overcame your ruin to settle. No city has a heart like yours)."

Ahmad, better known as Shabbu, told The Telegraph today: "As we painted the first line, a crowd gathered. People asked why we were painting in Urdu. We explained that this is poetry praising Delhi, it's a government project. We showed them the permission letter on our phones. The crowd soon increased to about 150. A dark and hefty man with a slight moustache stepped forward and said he is from the RSS and Urdu would not be tolerated."

"He had a few supporters who yelled abuses about our mothers and sisters and started shouting 'Jai Shri Ram'. I said my name is Shabbu and they assumed I was Shambhu, a Hindu. So they turned their ire towards my French colleague, Swen Simon, asking him to pay me my wages and go back to Lahore. Swen doesn't know Hindi. I pleaded with them to leave him alone, saying he's French not Pakistani," Ahmad added.

Some people picked up the brush and started painting over the Urdu letters, said Ahmad. "They yelled at me, saying paint in 'yellow, orange, blue'. They held my hands and tried to force me to paint. I agreed to paint whatever they wanted to save ourselves. They said paint 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' (the Clean India campaign promoted by the Narendra Modi government) and 'Narendra Modi' in Hindi, which I started doing. By the time I painted the first line, police arrived," said Ahmad.

Ahmad, who has a master's in fine arts from Jamia Millia Islamia, added that the artists had tried to photograph the mob but the self-proclaimed RSS men took their phones and deleted the images. These men melted into the crowd as soon as they heard the police siren.

"The police were quite rude and took away my phone. They kept questioning our motives after I told them I live in Batla House (where two alleged terrorists and a police officer were killed in 2008). Thankfully, (Delhi) culture minister Kapil Mishra called the police up when we were in the van, after which the cops were apologetic and offered us soft drinks and food," Ahmad said.

DILY has decided not to work at the site. "We didn't expect this as it has never happened before," said Kush Sethi of DILY.

Minister Mishra said he would not allow intimidation. "These RSS men neither understand culture nor religion, especially Hinduism. Otherwise, they wouldn't have done this to our foreign guest who is doing a service to the city. The option of taking legal action is open to us but we first want to create social awareness and expose their plans to create communal tension," Mishra said.

In response to a question, A.K. Singla, deputy commissioner of police (Northeast Delhi), said: "I do not know about this incident. I will have to check."