“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’
Mexican poet Cesar Cruz’s renowned lines reverberated on the streets of Jamia Milia Islamia University on Thursday when artists from different parts of Delhi gathered to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Fifteen separate groups of artists participated in the call to reclaim public spaces through brushes and colour as part of the ongoing protest at Jamia that has been going on since December 15 when the Delhi police brutally clashed with student protestors.
At the protest, which was led by students from the Fine Arts discipline, artists inscribed messages on the streets which rejected the triple threat of CAA, National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register.
“We are here because this government has devalued and dismantled Article 14 and 15 of the constitution. We are here to protect our constitution. As artists, we can make our statement with colours and that is our kind of protest,” said Kauser Jahan, one of the members of the organising committee.
While one of the artworks called for stopping the imposition of Section 144, another depicted how the government has been diminishing India’s constitutional values.
“India is a democratic country and all of us have the equal right to dissent. Our artworks ask the government to recognise the right to differ. They can’t simply get away with crippling the secular fabric of the country,” Mohd Ifran, one of the artists who participated in the protest, told LiveWire.
This protest comes in the backdrop of allegations made by both the government and the police about protests turning violent. This protest, the artists said, is yet another way to peacefully protest the state of affairs in the country right now. As one of the artists told LiveWire, “Let’s see if the government considers colours and brushes to be violent.”
Among the artists who participated was The Wire‘s own Pariplab Chakraborty, who is a current student of Jamia. His piece of a Muslim child looking at Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a caption in Bengali which reads “Raja Tor Kapor Kothai? (Hey King, where are your clothes?”) made a strong statement against the Modi-Shah duo’s imposition of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan.
Talking about the importance of art in times of protest, the organisers said, “The artworks here represent the crisis at hand. People are coming and listening (to speakers at protests), but it’s time to do more. We have to be extremely inclusive and perceivable. The paintings will create further dialogues and attract more people.”
The effort put in the by the artists did not go in vain, as large numbers of onlookers gathered with many even offering encouragement.
Mohd Nazrudding, a van-puller who has been at the site of the protest since the very first day of the movement, said, “I know that the students are doing right and we are with them. We can’t live in fear. We must come out to save our ‘loktantra’.”
Several local residents also claimed that the police has been trying to create a divide in order to reduce the unity and rage of the movement.
“But we are not going anywhere. You can’t play divide and rule here. We are together. Whatever you say and whatever you do, this ‘jung’ will see the end of this regime,” said Mohd Ifran, who came from North Delhi just to see the works of the artists.
Organising committee members Kauser, Kajal, Ashish and Imtiaz told LiveWire that they would take the street-art campaigns to different parts of the locality, including Shaheen Bagh where hundreds of Muslim women have been on a sit-in protest for more than 15 days.
With all its colours and flavours, the artists at Jamia made it clear that the time has come to disturb the ‘normal’ and to inscribe the ‘uncomfortable’ on the streets.
Abhik Bhattacharya is a Doctoral Research Fellow, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi.
All images: Abhik Bhattacharya