In a shocking development on Thursday last week, right-wing goons forced two artists to deface their own wall-writing praising Delhi in Urdu before replacing them with Swacch Bharat Abhiyan.
The two people facing the brutal humiliation by Hindutva brigade included a French artist and his Indian associate, both of whom were commissioned by the Delhi government to paint the walls of a Delhi Jal Board pumping station in northeast Delhi.
A report in The Telegraph quoted the artist Akhlaq Ahmad as saying that the crowd shouted slogans like “Jai Shri Ram” while calling the artists “Lahoris.”
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).”
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.
Ahmad, better known as Shabbu, told The Telegraph on Tuesday, “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 has a master’s degree in fine arts from Jamia Millia Islamia.
He criticised the role of Delhi Police saying 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.