A few students from across the city of Kolkata took to the streets and put up graffiti to protest the slum demolitions that the West Bengal State Government undertook while prepping the city for the recent U-17 World Cup, that was held in the Yuva Bharati Krirangan near Salt Lake.
It all began when there was a huge protest demonstration organized on October 8, but the police refused to let the rally progress. Shanu Shaw, one of the students involved in painting the graffiti, was among the few to visit the slums during the eviction. He says, “It is important to understand that no media is ready to cover this, though they are all covering the U-17 World Cup. The police and administration have generated a tense atmosphere and some of the residents refused to even talk to us when we were in the area.”
These students have also used social media to spread their message. They claim they are not against football or sport, but they don’t support eviction (“Amra football bhalobashi, kintu amra bosti uchhed chaina”).
The City of Joy is famed for its interest in, and encouragement of, the game of football, and over the season hundreds of thousands of people flock to the stadiums. Debmalya Halder, another member of the group of students involved, says, “We are not against the game, but we want the student-youth to be aware of the consequences. We have specially chosen locations near colleges and schools, like College Street and Hedua so that we can reach out the students. Awareness among the youth is very important.”
The concept of graffiti as a form of protest is not new. Very recently Dhaka and West Bengal saw a spate of anonymous graffiti known as the “Subodh Series” where Subodh (literally translating into “good sense”) is a young boy who holds the sun captive in a cage under his arms and is clearly on the run. While the graffiti in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh asks the young boy to flee the place because it isn’t safe for anyone, the graffiti in Kolkata asked the boy to stay on and fight because it is not in his character to surrender.
When asked why they chose graffiti to register their protest, Shubhasis Badra said, “We are students who have seen undemocratic campuses and constant tension and violence. We realized very early that to take direct action would mean direct victimization. No one, however, can say anything if I paint on the walls. The idea is to publicize the issue without being caught out and victimized. Besides I love painting so why not do it for an important cause.”
The environment in Calcutta University has been famed for its lack of campus democracy for a while now, with the student wing of the ruling TMC, the TMCP, not even allowing proper elections to be conducted. Thus, this group of students has chosen this format to raise awareness and campaign against this eviction that both the mainstream media and the authorities are trying to suppress desperately.