Graffiti isn’t new to Delhi, but the city has been witnessing a strong new movement in wall art of late. While so far, it’s mostly been funky, pop abstracts themed around rebellion, it’s now the big fight against sexual harassment that has taken to walls after marching on the streets.
Whether inflicted on the straight or gay, harassment has become a hot subject to bash everywhere, from university walls to dark underpasses, all over the city. There’s an open outrage and it’s out there in your face. These talking walls are slamming the law, questioning it, and painting bold sentiments against rape, homophobia and other societal hazards.
"It’s a kind of campaign and we’re just a medium. After the December 16 (2012) rape case, I have been very active with art against harassment. Any kind of injustice in society provokes me and that reflects in what I do," says an artist who has been working with the All India Students’ Association (AISA) for the past six years, and whose graffiti fills up many walls in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University (DU). "I feel that these walls give more information than books and journals. They make a statement," he says, wishing not to be named.
Nothing arbit about it
Contrary to popular perception, street art activism is not ‘random’. A good amount of scheming goes into it and there are people dedicated to this culture jamming. Sucheta Dey, an activist, works closely with the JNU Students Union. She tells us how the group plans its social themes two months in advance before zeroing in on an idea.
"We put up one big poster every year related to the hottest current socio-political issue. I see it bringing a change in the society," says Dey, with much zest.
JNUSU (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union) president Akbar adds, "Our art is with a purpose. We take up an issue and make posters, do graffiti, write poems etc. Last year, we worked around corruption and it had a huge impact."
Another artist, on condition of anonymity, says, "We’ve done a lot of graffiti to drive across the message that women must be respected. Just like there are marches and candlelight vigils for others, this is our way of urging people towards change. It’s sad though, that the walls are white-washed too soon sometimes (hinting at the Hauz Khas DDA wall that was recently washed off such graffiti)."
Awesome or ugly?
While the cause may be noble, the impact of such street art is mixed, say experts. Anjali Thomas, a clinical psychologist, explains the consequences. "It would serve two purposes: one would be that people are aware and that there’s a strong movement, and the other is that it would work to increase anxiety since the same message is being reinforced that you’re in danger, with little or discernible action seen," she says.
However, Sarika Sharma, a second year DU student, feels good to see the streets speaking up. "I get a sense that the society has not forgotten the bad and that there is a fire in the youth, which will result in something positive. So, there’s hope for the future," smiles the 19-year-old.
But, sociologist Mala Kapur feels no matter the gravity of the message, such a display makes the city look ugly: "It shows people’s collective conscience, but it’s not a responsible act."
What the law says
According to the Indian law, a person can be fined or sentenced to jail against defacement of public property, public demarcation and offending the sensibilities of minority class/religion. Despite its penal consequences, graffiti as activism art has been a worldwide practice through decades. In fact, its first examples are known to date back to ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire.