4 artists detained in Assam over roadside graffiti of jailed activist

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Guwahati, Nov 19 (PTI) Four artists were detained on Thursday for drawing graffiti of jailed activist Akhil Gogoi on a roadside in Guwahati with the police later forcing them to whitewash the wall.

The artists of the Guwahati-based Anga Art Collective on Wednesday afternoon started making the graffiti that showed Gogoi being stopped by a group of baton-carrying police personnel.

A senior police official said the graffiti showed the police force in a 'derogatory manner', and it cannot be accepted.

'Moreover, nobody can deface public property by painting on it. If one wants to use the public property, then necessary permission is required,' the official told PTI.

He said five people, including the four artists, were detained to 'prevent' them from painting and the graffiti has been removed.

Dhrubajit Sarma, one of the detained artists, said their group has been depicting social issues through paintings since 2010.

'We are artists. We cannot remain mute spectators of the happenings around us. Akhil Gogoi has been in jail for almost one year, and we thought of depicting his condition through our painting,' he told PTI.

Sarma said that after brief detention at the Basistha police station, they were taken to the site on National Highway-27 and then 'forced' to whitewash the wall on which the graffiti was made.

The artists, all in their 20s, are graduates of the Government Art College in Guwahati.

The other artists detained were Rahul Lahon, Kuladip Sarma and Bulbul Das.

Besides, Pranjal Kalita of the Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti, the students' wing of the KMSS was also detained.

The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader, Gogoi, is currently lodged at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital where he was admitted after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested him in December last year for his alleged role in violent anti- Citizenship Amendment Act protests.

Photos and videos of the graffiti went viral on social media with people from different sections of the society criticising the police action.

'When the cloud covers the sun,' Assamese singer Manas Robin said on Facebook, sharing the graffiti.

Posting a poem on people's resistance by revolutionary poet Gorakh Pandey, renowned painter Nikhileswar Baruah strongly condemned the detention.

Senior journalist Sushanta Talukdar said, 'The writing is on the wall (Democracy).' Condemning the act, social worker Bhaben Handique said the government could remove the image from the wall, but not from people's hearts.

'This fascist government has gone down too low. If this is the reaction for a simple painting, then what safety does a common man have in this country?' asked social scientist Ankur Tamuli Phukan.

Businessman Rasel Hussain said the Sarbananda Sonowal-led government is about to 'surpass infamous leaders like Idi Amin, Hitler, Mussolini, Khmer, Hideki'.

Besides, scores of students, and supporters of the KMSS protested against the police action.

Raijor Dal, the political party floated by the KMSS, said in a statement that artists are not safe in Assam as the BJP-led government does not guarantee freedom of expression and freedom. PTI TR SBN SOM SOM