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Graffiti gangs give new meaning to Kolkata’s walls

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Kolkata:  Armed with spray cans and creativity, a group of youngsters are steadily turning Kolkata’s walls – for long splattered with political slogans and quack cures – into graffiti artscapes, painting the city red, blue and a variety of hues.

Representational image
Representational image

A motley crew of young men and women, with pseudonyms as fanciful as their creations, is etching its artistic and social imagination and giving a new definition to the walls, predominantly considered a domain of the political parties in West Bengal.

The otherwise mundane walls in the eastern metropolis have always been a crucial component of the animated political jargon in the state, with parties reaching out to the masses with slogans that are at times witty, satirical, assertive and even thought provoking, but also at times aggressive, contemptuous and full of hatred.

But, basking in anonymous glory, the SREKs, SHAFs and the SNIKs sneak out in the middle of the night to “reclaim” their canvas – city walls covered with slogans – braving attacks from political parties and even police action.

“Politics is a nuisance – be it political graffiti or the politicians themselves. Our ‘street art’ is an attempt to give colour to this otherwise mundane grey world,” SNIK, ‘revered’ as the ‘godfather’ of Kolkata graffiti, told IANS.

Credited with pioneering the ‘guerrilla art’ in the city, SNIK’s love affair with graffiti began while studying in Sydney.

“I mostly started off doing black books and canvases, then moved on to doing basic tags on walls. Returning to Kolkata, I met a few guys at a hip-hop jam and communicating through Facebook and jamming, we began our bid to reclaim the city walls splattered with political hatred and laughable quack cures,” said SNIK, who runs a restaurant in the city.

While its origin can be traced to the cave art of the Paleolithic Age, modern graffiti is perceived as a defiance of

For representational purpose
For representational purpose

authority and vandalism. Most street artists traditionally prefer to stay anonymous, adopting pseudonyms, fearing a backlash and police action.

World famous for his satirical street art and subversive epigrams, the real identity of British graffiti artist Banksy’ still remains unknown.

But for the graffiti artists, it’s a colourful medium of expression, an art and an addiction for which they are ready to risk police action – or even getting on the wrong side of activists of political parties.

“Graffiti is my addiction; it takes me to a world of my own where I express myself through my colours, my scribbles…The feeling is beyond words… where you scream out your thoughts to the world and yet remain anonymous,” said SHAF, who, with his ‘partner in crime’ SREK, is one of leading ‘graffiti cru’ in the city.

“While we mostly seek permission when doing graffiti on private properties, political party activists perceive our art as an invasion and there have been instances when we had to run for our lives on being chased by them,” SREK said.

SNIK’s ‘cru’ partner SHOCK was caught by the police while spraying on a Metro train and tracks, but was let off with a warning.

The graffiti gangs are not a bunch of aimless artists blindly aping the hip-hop culture. For them, graffiti is as much an art as a means to defy disapproving social norms.

The vibrant colours symbolise their exuberance and the graffiti – the declaration of their existence to the world.

“How many people can walk through a city and prove they were there? It’s a sign I was here. My hand made this mark…My existence counts…,” said SNIK, whose graffiti is not ‘mere scribbles’ but is also an “expression of the youth’s spirit of rebellion’.

The advent of digital printing and the use of flexes and hoardings may have reduced the significance of political graffiti, but with the 2016 assembly polls on the horizon, the battle for the walls is all set to intensify.

“As the saying goes, where there is a will there is a way. Our spray cans too will find the canvasses. Far from days when people considered us vandals and even had contempt for our art, graffiti steadily is gaining in popularity.

“People now willingly allow us to etch our dreams on their walls. Polls or not, our crusade will continue,” SHAF asserted.

Famed painter Samir Aich has lent his support to the graffiti gang in their crusade.

“But for these young men and women, calligraphy would be dead. All their creations are a mural to be appreciated. The colours, the intricate designs, they are all a piece of art,” Aich said.

“It’s time our walls get rid of political graffiti – all their colours, and each and every letter reeks of hatred and deceit,” Aich added.

(Anurag Dey, IANS)

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Rising Communalism, Strained Socio-Political Conditions and Lackadaisical Administration Leading to Hike in Hooliganism in Kolkata

According to retired IPS officer Md Nizam Shamim, hooliganism is rising as the criminals are getting adequate backing from political outfits

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kolkata, hooliganism
Policeman facing women in a protest march, Calcutta Kolkata India. Wikimedia Commons

Kolkata has witnessed a string of hooliganism related incidents in recent months, with its long time denizens putting the blame on rising communalism, strained socio-political conditions and a lackadaisical attitude of the administration in catching or punishing the ruffians.

While many of the violent incidents in Kolkata can be attributed to the political tension between Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress and its main challenger the BJP, a few occurrences like lynching of a suspected thief or attack on the junior doctors of a renowned state-run hospital in the heart of the city have shaken the city’s collective consciousness.

On June 5, a mob allegedly beat a man to death inside a club in central Kolkata’s Maniktala after they suspected him as a thief. In March, a 70-year-old man was allegedly beaten to death by a mob on a similar suspicion.

On June 10, two truckloads of people attacked Kolkata’s state-run NRS Medical College and Hospital and brutally beat up the intern doctors, thereafter an altercation broke out between the doctors and the patient party over a man’s death.

Two junior doctors sustained serious injuries, while several others were hurt as the mob pelted stones. The junior doctors alleged that the police personnel stood as mute witness as the attackers went on the rampage. This incident led to a week-long strike by junior medicos across the state and triggered protests by doctors all over the country.

The plight of the doctors moved the city’s eminent people, with the likes of acclaimed director Aparna Sen, painter Samir Aich, musicians Debojyoti Mishra and Anupam Roy walking alongside the medics in a protest rally.

hooliganism, kolkata
According to the media reports it is evident that communal tension, which was never an issue in West Bengal, has now become almost a day to day affair. Wikimedia Commons

The attack on former Miss India Universe Ushoshi Sengupta by a group of youths in their early 20s, who tried to vandalise her cab and beat up the driver earlier this week, has highlighted the underlying unrest within the society and the vulnerability of the citizens on the roads.

What was more disturbing, the cops – instead of helping out a woman in distress around midnight – made Sengupta run from one police station to another citing the issue of jurisdiction. Describing the incident as “scary and heartbreaking”, Sengupta said it would have been better had the police taken action before her social media post went viral.

“The boys followed us till my colleague’s house and right when we were dropping him near Lake Gardens Government housing, six of the boys in three bikes came and stopped my car, threw stones and broke the car. They dragged me out and tried to break my phone to delete the video,” the model-actress said.

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“The experience with the police on the night of the incident was a little heartbreaking. After my Facebook post went viral, top police officers got in touch with me and took prompt action against the offenders. Had they shown this promptness during the incident, it would have been better,” she said.

Within a week of the incident, another young woman travelling in an app based cab was chased by a middle aged person in his car. This time, the accused was promptly arrested by the police. However, in stark contrast, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2016 (the latest report available) had portrayed Kolkata as one of the safest cities for women in the country, even as Bengal recorded the highest number of cases of domestic violence.

The city is ranked 17th in terms of crime (the top place going to the state with the worst record) against women among the 19 megacities in the country, and recorded only 4 per cent of the cases but West Bengal recorded the highest numbers of domestic violence cases against women in 2016.

According to retired IPS officer Md Nizam Shamim, hooliganism is rising as the criminals are getting adequate backing from political outfits. “It is true that the hooliganism in Kolkata and Bengal is rising. According to the media reports it is evident that communal tension, which was never an issue in West Bengal, has now become almost a day to day affair. Naturally, such issues happening around Kolkata, has its effects on the city,” Shamim told IANS.

kolkata, hooliganism
What was more disturbing, the cops – instead of helping out a woman in distress around midnight – made Sengupta run from one police station to another citing the issue of jurisdiction. Wikimedia Commons

“When I was working here as a police officer, we acted against the criminals in general but no distinction was made between Hindu criminals and Muslim criminals. But now certain political powers are highlighting this divide. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for the lawmakers to take action as criminals get political backing,” he said.

He said the administration needs to be more active in tracking the hooligans, take action against them while sensitising the youths about the impact of breaking law.

“Also a list of the local criminals and hoodlums were kept at the police stations and they were kept under strict police vigil. I do not know whether today’s officers are doing that. Unless you can cut the source of bombs and arms, such incidents of violence will continue to happen.”

“A section of youths are becoming increasingly reckless due to lack of education and jobs. I see so many of them roaming around in two wheelers without helmets every day. Many indulge in anti-social activities. The police needs to watch them and discourage them from breaking laws,” he added.

Theatre personality Chandan Sen said hooliganism has been on the rise due to the lack of a proper machinery to control the situation.

“Hooliganism is rampant since the last few years. It is increasing fast as there is no machinery in place to stop it. The saddest part is that the political forces are either blind to such incidents or they are catering to the offenders. As a result, it is on the rise,” Sen told IANS.

He said Kolkata had a heritage of togetherness, where people of a certain locality used to be together putting aside caste or communal differences which has now disappeared.

“Also, there are forces giving hooliganism a communal tone and people are falling prey to it. Hooligans do not have a religion. They are criminals. Violence was there in Kolkata even during the Naxalite movement. But at that time it was based on ideological battles between political parties but now it has become a fight to capture power. That’s why people have lost faith in political parties and this helplessness is giving birth to the unrest,” Sen added.

For box –

Recents incidents reported in Kolkata

*February 21: Woman attacked and severely beaten up by locals in Howrah’s Tikiapara near Kolkata on suspicion of child lifting. Locals clashed with police when they tried to rescue her and vandalised police vehicles.

*February 23: A man was beaten up by a mob in North Kolkata’s Phoolbagan on suspicion of him being a child-lifter. Police rescued the victim. 17 persons arrested.

*March (date not confirmed): A 70-year-old man beaten to death in central Kolkata on suspicion of theft.

*March 21: Homeless man killed by a miscreant inside a godown in Charu Market police station area for trying to stop him from stealing cell phones from two young kids.

*April 30: Man beaten to death by construction site staffers for allegedly stealing cell phone in Pragati Maidan police station area. Six arrested.

*June 5: A mob allegedly beat a 36-year-old man to death inside a club in central Kolkata’s Maniktala after they suspected him of theft. Three arrested.

*June10: Two truckloads of people attacked Kolkata’s state-run NRS Medical College and Hospital and brutally beat up the intern doctors there after an old patient’s death. One doctor sustained serious skull injury. Five arrested.

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*June 17: Ushoshi Sengupta and a friend attacked by 15 hoodlums on motorcycles near Exide crossing. Uber driver beaten up. Seven arrested.

*June 19: A 23-year-old woman travelling in an app based cab chased by a middle aged person in his car. The man tried to block her cab near south Kolkata’s Alipore. Accused arrested. (IANS)