‘Heart of Delhi’ will have to find a new spot

Claiming to be RSS members, locals prevented artists from painting an Urdu couplet in East Delhi last week; street art was part of “Delhi, I Love You” campaign

An Urdu couplet lionising the “Heart of Delhi” will now brighten up a drab government building somewhere in the city, after locals prevented artists from painting the words at an East Delhi site last week.

Two artists were painting the couplet on the wall of a Delhi Jal Board pumping station on GT Road in Shahdara on May 20 as part of the government-supported “Delhi, I Love You” campaign, when they were surrounded by locals, some of whom claimed they were from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and forced to erase the line.

The couplet in question was written by a post-graduate student of Delhi University, Zeeshan Amjad, and was one of the 40 entries chosen for a public art campaign launched by “Delhi, I Love You” in September last.

Dilli tera ujarna, aur phir ujar ke basna. Woh dil hai toone paya, sani nahi hai jiska . (Oh Delhi, you were ruined and you overcame your ruin to settle. No city has a heart like yours),” it said.

The artists, Akhlaq Ahmad, who goes by Shabbu, and Swen Simon, a French street artist consulting on the project, had just painted the background and the first line of the couplet when they were accosted.

“They told us that we couldn’t paint the Urdu line. They told us to write Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan over it. I ended up having to do it as there were about 100 people surrounding us. They told us they were from the RSS and that if we didn’t leave, there would be dire consequences,” said Mr. Ahmad.

He added that the crowd hurled abuses at them, and only backed down when someone called the police. For both artists, this was the first time something like this had happened.

“We had permissions from the government so there was nothing wrong. Since I don’t speak Hindi, I didn’t know what the crowd was saying, but they were aggressive and had a problem with Urdu,” said Mr. Simon, who has been doing street art for 15 years.

The situation remained tense till the police arrived at the scene and took the artists to the nearby Mansarovar Park police station. A police officer said the artists had permissions in writing so they were allowed to leave.

“We have not registered any case. The people in the crowd were just locals, not RSS activists,” said the officer from Mansarovar Park police station.


The “Delhi, I Love You” movement, meant to celebrate the Capital through 30 months of collaborative initiatives, had launched a project to collect “Delhi stories” in September. With the help of Twitter India, they collected over 8,000 stories, couplets and observations through the hashtag #MyDilliStory. Forty of the best submissions, 10 each in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi — all official languages of Delhi — were chosen to be painted on public spaces around the city. The project was in collaboration with the Delhi government, which helped with permissions for the sites.

Since September, 10 of the tweets have been painted on walls across the city, including the wall of Saket City Hospital and ISBT Kashmere Gate. A few months ago, the artists painted two Urdu couplets at ISBT.

“We never thought anything like this would happen. Since we get permissions in batches, we thought to start with an Urdu one when we got the permission to paint at nine DJB buildings as we had not used many of the Urdu submissions,” said Kush Sethi, the chief digital officer of “Delhi, I Love You”.

Undeterred by the incident at Shahdara, Mr. Sethi said though the artists will not return to the site, they will paint the same couplet at one of the other DJB sites allotted for the project.

Kapil Mishra, who is the DJB chairperson and Delhi Minister for Tourism and Culture and Languages, said there will zero tolerance for such incidents. “We will look into taking legal action. The RSS doesn’t understand the culture of Delhi, of which Urdu is an integral part. We will launch an awareness campaign and let Delhiites decide what they want,” he said.

Kulbhushan Ahuja of the Delhi unit of the RSS, however, denied any knowledge of the incident.

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Printable version | Jul 15, 2020 12:15:15 PM |

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