A court in Arunachal Pradesh on Tuesday granted bail to a graffiti artist from Assam and an Itanagar-based lawyer activist, who were arrested on Sunday for allegedly defacing the boundary wall of the state secretariat in Itanagar with an anti-dam message.
Granting bail to artist Neelim Mahanta and lawyer Ebo Mili, Judicial Magistrate First Class Tenzin Metho directed them to repaint the defaced portion of the wall and restore it to its original form within 10 days.
Mahanta and Mili had allegedly written “No More Dams” in black and drew a fist inside a circle on the wall, which had a mural of a dam.
They face charges under the non-bailable Section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984. Conviction carries a jail term between six months and five years.
Jimmy Chiram, superintendent of police, Itanagar, had said on Monday that the accused were arrested on the charge of defacing the wall of the state secretariat building in Itanagar, known as the Wall of Harmony, with their anti-dam message.
Suman Saha, an artist friend of Mahanta, told The Telegraph that the graffiti artist was released around 6pm and left for his home in Lakhimpur soon after.
A group from Lakhimpur, including members of the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), which had staged protests on Monday and Tuesday seeking Mahanta’s unconditional release, were waiting to receive the artist at Harmati, about an hour’s drive from Itanagar.
AJYCP assistant general-secretary Saurabh Das said that since Mahanta has been released they would drop their road blockade agitation from Wednesday.
The day also saw the Arunachal Pradesh government spokesperson Bamang Felix issue a press statement regarding the defacement of the “Wall of Harmony” by Mahanta and Mili, asserting the arrests do not pertain to any kind of anti-dam or any other protest and the government “firmly” believes in the “freedom of expression” and the right to dissent or protest by any citizen.
Arunachal Pradesh has a unique history and hosts an incredible heritage both cultural and natural. It was decided to translate this richness into holistic public art projects initiating with “Wall of Harmony” in Itanagar commemorating the 50th Formation day of Arunachal Pradesh.
The two individuals by their act of defacing the wall have not only encroached into public property but also hurt the sentiments of all Arunachalees, who take much pride in their glorious past, Felix said.
Both Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have governments headed by the BJP.