Dhaka, Bangladesh: The police in Dhaka have arrested an artist who they say is the creator of the much-talked-about graffiti series “Subodh,” along with his two alleged collaborators. The suspect, whose identity has not yet been revealed by the police, faces a number of serious charges, including vandalism, sedition and conspiracy, which could award him many years of jail time.
The prosecutor of the case, MA Jaal-il, also brought an additional charge against the suspect under section 57 of the ICT Act, alleging the suspect “create[d] possibility to deteriorate law and order.”
Despite the fact that the suspect's alleged offences occurred offline—that is to say, on the street walls—he “instigated others to republish his arts on Facebook walls,” the prosecutor alleges.
“After days of investigation into the matter, we have made this breakthrough,” See-No-Evil, the chief of the police team that spearheaded the operation, announced last night. Calling this a “serious blow to the transnational 'painterrorist' network,” he declared that the group was dismantled once and for all.
Meanwhile, sources in India tell us that the Indian police intend to dispatch a special team to Bangladesh to learn how to detain the graffiti “vandalists” who replicated “Subodh” on the walls across Jadavpur University of West Bengal.
On social media, however, some supporters of the artist treated the news with scepticism. Star Weekend Satire could not independently verify the contesting claims. This reporter hasn't had access to the suspect despite repeated attempts.
“Subodh”, the graffiti series, rocked the capital in February when it appeared on several walls in Dhaka. Presumably named after its protagonist, it is a tale of a downhearted man who is advised to run away—a call that reportedly antagonised the nation's security apparatus.
“At a time when the country sees the highest-ever growth in every possible sector one can possibly imagine, calling someone to run away from the country is indeed suspicious and nefarious,” said the public prosecutor in February when the graffiti series first emerged.
The “Subodh” creator was subsequently accused of “instilling terror into the public's mind” through his artwork. “Someone is trying to inject fear in people's mind,” a security expert was quoted by a newspaper as saying. “It's propaganda—a strategy to elicit fright among the mass people.”
Many compared “Subodh” with the works of Banksy, a graffiti artist known for his depiction of the political establishment in a “defamatory and scandalous way”. No-Evil, the special team commander, describes Banksy as “probably the ideological leader” of the Indo-Bangla graffiti network. “He's the bin Laden of graffitists,” he added.
Last month, a new graffiti depicting “Subodh” surfaced on Dhaka's wall, in which the protagonist was seen with a little girl asking him when the sunshine would break. In a simultaneous “subversive” graffiti, a rooster was seen screaming at the trademark caged sun.
Interpreting them as works of an anarchist element trying to destabilise the country by calling for a break from the status-quo, the police reportedly formed a special team and increased surveillance to catch the mastermind behind the graffiti.
No-Evil says, “We set up a task force to identify and then monitor the city's walls that had the potential to be used as the newest venue for his subversive activism.
“After days of surveillance, we noticed suspicious activity by a group of individuals in a place near Dhaka University. We instantly deployed our special agents. Our brave agents caught them red-handed when the mastermind was about to bring dangerous tools like paintbrushes and colour pots out of a small bag to paint on a nearby wall. Our team successfully thwarted an attempt to cause harm to the country's stability.”
When asked how many personnel have been placed and how much taxpayers' money has been spent on the entire operation, the commander replied, “We do not disclose operational details.”
The journalist who asked the question has not been seen since.
After the press briefing, the reporters present were supplied with a copy of the National Broadcast Policy, with a specific line highlighted, which roughly read: “Publishing images or videos that could tarnish the image of law enforcement agencies and armed forces is prohibited.”
Nazmul Ahasan is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.