DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Defaced city walls

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Defacement of city walls has been a common feature in our cities. I recall when I went to Calcutta for the first time in 1984 I was amazed to see all the walls – public or private –plastered over with slogans, ads or campaigns of the local government. Not an inch of the whites of the walls would be visible. West Bengal had a Communist Party of India (Marxist) government then. Likewise, during my posting in the North-East I visited Agartala somewhere around 1989, the capital of Tripura in the far eastern corner of the country on the other side of Bangladesh. There, too, all walls, public or private, were written over in blue or black or communist red. Tripura was also being ruled by CPI (M), as it is till today, being the only communist ruled state in the country. It appeared, defacing the walls was the hall mark of communist regimes. I was told it was the “red” cadres in every locality who used to deface the walls, of course, on orders from their senior comrades. While Calcutta – now Kolkata – has got over the propensity to deface the city walls I do not know whether Tripura too has shed this tendency.

Surprisingly, situated far away from Kolkata or Agartala, Bhopal seems to have somehow caught the infection that makes private or public agencies to deface walls. All of us have to pass through the Civil Lines or Link Road No.1 and are presented with the spectacle walls written over with government campaigns. One stretch of wall of Hamidia College and the Circuit House was given away during the mayoralty of Sunil Sood to the students to try their hand in painting it with whatever caught their fancy. In fact at that time there was a campaign in the newspapers about defacement of public walls and Sunil Sood had taken a decision to ban defacement of walls. However, quite curiously, the government agencies themselves are now writing slogans on the city walls.

 In the Civil Lines area the wall of State Archives and Polytechnic as also elsewhere the slogans of Swachchata Mission are written all over for considerable stretches. It did not seem to have occurred to the authorities concerned that mere writing of slogans in myriad well-contrived language would not ensure cleanliness. What is needed is concrete action by government’s own agencies or the civic body to rid the city of muck and dirt. All along the Link Road, too, the slogans relating to government’s social campaigns can be seen, though some of them are now, mercifully, obstructed from view by the growing shrubbery.

 Thus the state government is breaching the Municipal Corporation’s ban orders with great facility. It has done so on numerous other occasions like running the cruise and motor boats on the Upper Lake despite a ban imposed by the municipality as far back as 2005. But, the Corporation is unable to gather enough gumption to take action against the former. The government, obviously, thinks nothing of the Corporation as it is, after all, its creature, running as it does on the grants doled out by the former.  The menace, however, seems to have assumed serious proportions as advertisers are now defacing, apart from public walls, even private walls which so far seem to have been spared the obnoxious paint and brush. Besides, they are pasting posters on electricity poles. Not only does it give the whole city a shabby appearance, it also indicates the lack of aesthetics on the part of all those who indulge in this reprehensible activity as also those who manage the city. That it also reflects the Municipal Corporation’s lack of will and teeth to keep the city presentable in every way is, of course, another matter.

In this connection, one must commend the remarkable work done by the I-Clean Team of Bhopal which has gone from place to place cleaning up the walls and bringing order to places where everything they found to be in disarray. Unfortunately, the effort of this self-less team of ever-increasing voluntary workers somehow did not rub off on any of the officials of the local civic body or of the Department of Urban Administration & Development. One expected that looking at the voluntary workers’ enthusiasm to get rid of the repulsive state of the many areas thay happened to visit and looking at their deep commitment to the city, officials concerned and elected representatives too would chip in to supplement their effort by men and material if not lead the entire campaign to better effect. Alas, that did not happen. It is not that they do not know about it; they are all aware of it as the local newspapers have repeatedly carried the news of the efforts of the I-Clean Team. What appears to me from this indifference of authorities is that they, besides being unashamed of their neglect and apathy towards the city, are utterly uncommitted to the city although working for betterment of the city is what precisely their job is. All their talks over the years of making the city look as good as Singapore or Paris were never well-meaning, in fact, that was all gas to hoodwink the people.

Only recently it was reported that the Chief Minister had claimed that our state is more beautiful than Singapore, comparing two incomparables in numerous ways. Nonetheless, in Singapore the government does not deface the city walls like his government does in Bhopal. Let the CM first have the city walls cleaned up, remembering that comparisons, apart from being odious, do not take one anywhere; it is only concrete action that does it. One would have appreciated if the government instead had fostered street art


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