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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

Vengeance gets a canvas on walls

Over the next few days these messages were painted over, but that did not stop neighbours from gossiping, some even suggested that she should get married to the man who was behind the act.

delhi Updated: Jun 30, 2019 04:12 IST
Soumya Pillai
Soumya Pillai
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Graffiti scribbled over the walls at Moolchand Underpass in New Delhi
Graffiti scribbled over the walls at Moolchand Underpass in New Delhi(Amal KS/ Hindustan Times)

It was the evening of April 7, 2017. Twenty-three-year-old Akriti had returned home, disturbed after declining the proposal of a former classmate, who had proclaimed his “love” for her. The proposal had led to an argument after which she stormed out, telling the man to get over his feelings.

Next morning she woke up to “I am sorry, Akriti” and “I love you, Akriti. Mujhe maaf kar do (Please forgive me)”, with hearts struck by Cupid’s bow painted across the walls of her building in black paint. The messages were also written on the boundary walls of a neighbourhood school.

“He thought his act was romantic. That he would write my name around the neighbourhood and I will go weak in the knees for him. It ruined my life,” said Akriti, who is now working at a private company in Gurugram.

She tried to convince her parents that the message was not addressed for her, and could be for any of the “hundreds of Akritis in the area”, but word about the person behind the messages spread fast in the locality.

Over the next few days these messages were painted over, but that did not stop neighbours from gossiping, some even suggested that she should get married to the man who was behind the act.

“We filed a police complaint, but I had no means to prove that it was him. We later met a local politician who painted over the messages,” she said.

The trend of “revenge graffiti” is not new to the national capital. Proof of this is on the walls of flyovers, underpasses, subways and other public places. The messages on the walls range from proclamation of love to more heinous ones such as putting out phone numbers of women and calling them names.

Delhi police data shows that last year, 68 cases of “revenge graffiti” were reported in the Delhi Police’s women’s helpline 1091. However, when it came to taking action against these faceless culprits, police could register an FIR and launch a probe against them only in 11 cases. In 2017, 35 such cases were reported on the helpline.

Police officials said that it is difficult to catch the guilty in such cases unless there are definite accounts from victims or eye witnesses who have seen them in the act. However, those caught are punished under sections of harassment and defacement of public property, depending on the severity of the case.

“It is definitely difficult to uncover the identities of these culprits, but once such cases come to the fore we are often able to book them for offences such as stalking, harassment and indulging in acts of blackmailing. We encourage victims to report such cases because keeping quite and ignoring these acts becomes an encouragement,” said Delhi Police spokesperson Madhur Verma.

The rising number of such cases and the lack of provision to book the culprits under stringent sections of the law have prompted government agencies to come up with newer ways to protect victims and cover such graffiti.

One of south Delhi’s busiest points, the Moolchand underpass, is one of the best examples of how public property is used to harass women. Senior officials of the Public Works Department (PWD) said that such messages had become so common on the walls of the underpass that, in 2012, they put up rugged tiles on both sides to discourage such “miscreants”.

“Every other day there was some lovelorn wannabe artist who wanted to paint something on the walls. We also tried night patrolling there, but how much can you monitor such activities,” said a senior government official, who was formerly posted with the PWD.

Despite the precautionary measure, when HT visited the underpass, the exits had several names signed on the sides. A message read —Dhruv and Anuradha” -—the two names within a heart. Another read —Kiss Anshul.”

Similar messages can also be observed on the elevated section of the metro at Mandi House. The wall on the sides of the elevated tracks in the heart of the city had become the favourite spot for such messengers.

A year ago, agencies came up with the idea of planting climbers to mask these messages.

Once these plants attain thick foliage, the agencies are hopeful that the existing graffiti will be covered and writing new messages will not be possible.

Agencies are also using preventive measure in newer projects to avoid such damage. On the sides of the under-construction Barapullah phase-III engineers have covered it with artwork.

The newly constructed Noida Link Road flyover, near the Mayur Vihar phase-I metro station, and the foot overbridge on the same road already have “Priya loves Harish” and “Aaru you are mine” messages written over it.

Gender experts and graffiti artists said that harassing women by putting out their names and contact details for the purpose of causing harm is not new, but the growth in infrastructure has expanded the scope of damage that these messages can cause.

“Writing a woman’s contact details with sexual messages inside men’s washrooms was a common way of ‘getting back’ at her. If she doesn’t reciprocate your love or wants to walk away from a relationship, the worst you can do to her according to these men is to throw her into the public space where she will be harassed by other frustrated men,” said Renuka Reddy, a scholar in gender studies.

She said, “Now, however, the scope has expanded. Instead of the handful of men who use a washroom, you take your message to the walls of flyover and monuments where the entire city can see it. Take a step further, and you have cases of putting out details on the cyber space, where the scope of torture is even more.”

Reddy added that along with measures to prevent such harassment, stringent punishments should also be brought about to deter such “Romeos”.

‘R for Art’, a collective of artists has also been fighting defamatory graffiti by redoing these spaces.

“Art is definitely a medium to express but this expression should not be at the cost of someone’s safety. We have been working in Delhi for over a decade now to beautify spaces, where such messages have been written. A lot of our projects are with the government, to remove violent messages and contact numbers,” said Sushant Dibru, co-founder of ‘R for Art’.

First Published: Jun 30, 2019 04:12 IST

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