By Ufaq Fatima
Srinagar: The graffiti and slogans painted by the people of Kashmir, especially the rebellious youngsters during the five months of uprising in Kashmir have gradually been effaced by the government agencies. At many places the slogans have been craftily modified to change the meaning and subtext.
The slogans and graffiti had been painted despite the warning from the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) against defacement of public places. The warning published in local newspapers alerted the people on legal punishments that defacement of walls at public places could invite.
During the massive uprising triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, walls of houses and enclaves, iron shutters of shops, electricity poles, macadamized roads and prominent vertical surfaces in streets became the canvas for the youth on which they painted the words of protest and desire.
The graffiti and slogans were prominently on display in every nook and cranny of the Valley, especially in capital Srinagar. They paintings caught the attention of passersby and police and security forces did not efface them during the height of pro-freedom campaign that dominated the streets of Kashmir. Almost every chowk in the Valley was rechristened as “Burhan chowk”.
However, as the life returned to normal gradually, the graffiti and slogans are silently disappearing. At many places they have been modified to reflect an entirely different meaning.
The most visible slogan “Go India Go back” has been modified at many places to read as “Good India Good”. At some place a word or two have been added to change the meaning. For example at Hawal chowk in old Srinagar ‘We want freedom’ slogam that dominated a prominent surface now reads as ‘We Want Freedom from stones’. At another place the word ‘freedom’ has been replaced to read the slogan as ‘We want Free Jio Sim’.
The locals said that they saw policemen arriving with paint brushes and canisters to erase the writings on walls and shutters. Police admitted that they efface the walls but deny the words have been added to the written slogans to change the meaning. Shahnawaz Ahmad, a middle-rung officer at Zadibal police station told Kashmir Reader that the cops painted over the objectionable graffiti “We do not add words to change the meanings. There are people with different mindset in valley, it can be their handiwork,” he said. The creators of these graffiti say that that it was their mode of expression during the uprising when “the voices of dissent were choked by the government forces.”
“We remained caged in our homes during the uprising and wall graffiti was one of the ways to protest and to highlight our struggle,” a youngster in old Srinagar said.
He said they painted slogans like ‘Go India, Go Back’ ‘Burhan- Our hero’, ‘freedom- State of War’, ‘Burhan Chowk’.
“We make graffiti at places highly visible to most people especially the tourists to grab their attention towards Kashmir and reflect the true picture of the place,” he said.
“The rulers can paint over the graffiti but they cannot erase our memories and suppress truth,” he said.
He said the youngsters collect money to buy paints and brushes to write these graffiti. “This has become our pastime and effective means to vent out our feelings,” he said. Contrary to the past when the graffiti and wall slogans were written during the dead of night to avoid reprisal from the authorities, the youngsters write the slogans in broad daylight during the 2016 uprising.
Interestingly, the painting saga has emerged as a new tussle between the rebel boys and the government forces. “We do not fear writing graffiti now even if they are erased by the police. They erase one, we write three more,” he said.