NEW DELHI – Students of New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University have turned the campus' sandstone walls into a canvas of discontent.
The spray-painted slogans and symbols reflect their opposition to a new law that provides a path to citizenship for religious groups from neighboring countries except Muslims. The graffiti convey a message that the Indian government has tried to silence by blocking internet and phone services, detaining thousands of protesters and banning public gatherings.
Inside the campus, murals draw parallels between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party’s lotus symbol, and Adolf Hitler and the Nazi swastika. Some walls were scrawled with a clarion call to take the government head-on. A little farther, a warning reads, “Be safe police ahead.”
Police entered the campus on Sunday, firing tear gas and beating unarmed student protesters with wooden sticks. Dozens were injured.
The incident became a rallying point for student-led protests across India, sometimes resulting in violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
“It proves our point,” said S. Kashif, a student who was part of the group that scrawled the graffiti. “They can break our bones but not our ideas.”
The graffiti and slogans that sprang up on the walls of the university were a spontaneous response to the law pushed through Parliament by the Modi government that offers naturalization for Hindu, Christian and other migrants who fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The law does not extend to Muslims.
Students say if the government won't hear their voices, the walls will talk.
“We did it because we felt the images and slogans will reflect the current debate about where the country is heading,” said Kashif, who compared the student-led protests with similar upheavals around the world.
Graffiti are also popping in other Indian universities, with students using a new visual vocabulary to express everything from calls to protest to outrage over sexual harassment.
“We want to make a statement,” said Shailly, 22. “Now people can either face it or ignore it.”