Last week, two artists were prevented by a crowd from painting an Urdu couplet on the wall of a Delhi Jal Board pumping station located in GT Road. The artists were painting the wall as part of a government-supported “Delhi, I Love You” campaign.
The crowd forced Akhlaq Ahmad and Swen Simon to deface the Urdu couplet in praise of the capital city and replace it with the Hindi words, "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan" and "Narendra Modi".
Reportedly, the men in the crowd were shouting "Jai Shri Ram" and other slogans, and addressed the artists as "Lahoris".
They identified themselves as RSS members and said that they “could bear anything, but not the Urdu script,” reports The Wire. reported.
Ahmad, a signboard painter better known as ‘artist Shabbu’ and Simon, a French street artist consulting on the project, had painted the first line of the couplet when they were accosted by the crowd.
“They told us that we couldn’t paint the Urdu line. They told us to write Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan over it. I ended up having to do it. They told us they were from the RSS and that if we didn’t leave, there would be dire consequences,” Ahmad told The Wire.
The couplet that the artists were painting was penned by Zeeshan Amjad, a post-graduate student of Delhi University. It was one among the 40 entries chosen for as part of the “Delhi, I Love You” public art campaign launched last September by the Delhi government's art, culture and languages department.
“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)."
"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 told The Telegraph.
The crowd reportedly hurled abuses at them, and only backed down when someone called the police. The artists were then taken to the Mansarovar Park police station situated nearby. After being interrogated on why they were writing in Urdu, the artists were allowed to leave when they showed the policemen their government permission letter.
The campaign was launched in September, when with the help of Twitter India, over 8,000 stories, couplets and observations through the hashtag #MyDilliStory were collected.
Forty of the best submissions, 10 each in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi — all official languages of Delhi — were chosen to be painted in public spaces around the city.
“We never thought anything like this would happen," Kush Sethi, the chief digital officer of “Delhi, I Love You” told The Hindu.
Sethi said the artists will not return to the GT Road site but they will paint the same couplet at one of the other DJB sites allotted for the project.
Meanwhile, Kapil Mishra, the DJB chairperson and Delhi Minister for Tourism and Culture and Languages, said that they will look into taking legal action. "The RSS doesn’t understand the culture of Delhi, of which Urdu is an integral part. We will launch an awareness campaign and let Delhiites decide what they want,” he said.
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