On Monday August 22, students of Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) turned out in large numbers carrying bucket loads of paint to participate in what is being called a ‘mass graffiti drive’. Slogans – both political and apolitical in nature; written in Hindi and English – were painted on several walls across the university. By August 25, certain slogans were washed off or written over by counter slogans. The counter slogans included writings like ‘Gender Studies is time waste’, ‘Veganism + running + cycles = <3’, ‘you’re on steroids’ etc. Amidst confusion and chaos about whether this was ‘right wing vandalism’ or just another form of dissent, Campus Watch spoke to a few students about the series of events at AUD in the past week.
August 19, 2016: Graffiti art in support of Bastar and Kashmir across the walls of the University– one in CR block, one in the photocopy shop corridor and few other walls was seen on this day. There is speculation over who made this graffiti – whether it was students from outside AUD or students of AUD themselves, hasn’t been confirmed. Nonetheless, graffiti art isn’t a new thing at AUD.
According to our sources, graffiti art has been an integral part of the AUD culture and has been a regular practice on campus; in fact, when NAAC had visited the University in 2014, the AUD administration had also provided resources like paints, brushes and other required material to ‘beautify’ and ‘decorate’ the campus walls. By the next morning, however, the University administration whitewashed all these walls and also took out a notice citing the Defacement of Property Act, 2007. The notice was displayed in the library corridor and was to serve as a warning to the students to refrain from painting the walls of the University.
August 21, 2016: As a response to this, a small group of students visited the University campus and started painting the walls again. This group was stopped by the housekeeping and security staff present at that time. They strictly told the students to not touch the walls, and even took them to the library corridor to show them the Defacement of Property Act, 2007 notice (which was put up in a day’s time). The housekeeping staff stopped the students, lest their actions be construed to blame the act upon them. One of these students, was also made to speak with the Deputy Registrar over the phone, who yelled at the student and asked, “Madam, with whose permission can you write things on the university wall?” When the student responded with “The walls already have paintings all over them, why are you stopping us?” he said, “Madam, I am sorry but anything that is up on the wall has been written with prior permission from the respective departments or authority. If you have an unresolved concern, come meet us, we will try to resolve it but you don’t have any right to scribble on the walls.”
By the end of the day, the graffiti made by the students was selectively washed over – some slogans, which talked about Kashmir or Bastar were washed off, while others like ‘Ambedkar University teaches nothing about Ambedkar’ were allowed to remain in place.
August 22 – August 25 2016: Such a response from the administration enraged the student community at AUD further and thus, they came out in large numbers on August 22. The graffiti painting continued over August 23 and 24 on the campus, although not on as a large scale as it had happened on the first day. However, a day later, counter slogans were written over the original ones, as mentioned earlier – and due to the nature of these slogans many students are interpreting it as a form of ‘right wing vandalism’.
On the other hand, certain students are also of the opinion that this could just be a reaction from the suppressed voices within the University. “For some students, it is more a lack of exposure than right wing-left wing political divisions. People aren’t necessarily consciously aligning themselves with or against right or left wing factions or even thinking in terms of right wing/left wing. They’re just reacting to what they encounter in the college environment – which is good – because the idea of the graffiti drive was to reclaim the University space as a space for dissent and dialogue,” the source added.
Talking about the administration’s move to put up a notice, Anup, a member of the current Students’ Council at AUD, said, “The decision of putting up the notice and whitewashing graffiti has mostly come from the Registrar office and the Vice Chancellor doesn’t seem to be involved in this.” It is important to note, that this mass graffiti drive was not initiated by the Students’ Council. In fact, there was a sharp difference of opinion within the Council about what stand they should take in this situation – and while the student body was organising the graffiti drive over emails, the council was deliberating upon whether the council meeting should be open to all or not.
As per Anup, some members were inclined towards creating a consensus within the council first and taking the activism path later, other members wanted to support the student body in the graffiti drive right away. The council till date, remains divided about its stand – as some members joined in the graffiti drive while the others decided to stay away. Some students are of the opinion that the University appears to have a problem with the students having a stand on certain political issues, which they tried to cover up under the garb of defacement of property through the graffiti.
The mass graffiti drive, was organised with one purpose – to reclaim the University space as a space for dissent and dialogue. Students from the Dalit Bahujan Adivasi Collective, a collective at AUD where students from the Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi communities come together and are attempting to create a space for discussions and discourses around caste and other issues, actively participated in the graffiti drive. However, DBAC did not claim it as an issue specific to students of certain communities; they felt that this issue is one which affects the student body at large, cutting across caste and class identities of the students and hence students participated in the drive as individuals, and not as members of a certain collective or a certain community. According to Anup, the drive has had two positive outcomes. “One, is that students from the Dalit community came out individually to voice their opinion, rather than as part of Dalit Bahujan Adivasi Collective. Two, the administration took down the notice and hasn’t been able to stop students from painting the walls since.” he said.