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Dhaka Tribune

Is graffiti a crime?

Update : 27 Dec 2017, 12:19 AM

Graffiti is drawing on property with writing, symbols, or graphics. Although considered as a form of art by many, it bears a negative connotation because usually it is done on surfaces without the consent of the property’s owner.

Whether graffiti is an art or crime has long been argued. Different types of graffiti have different purposes and the artwork may also become criminally culpable, depending on its nature. The fact that it is drawn without any consent, makes it a trespass on property and one of the most visible signs of antisocial behavior in society.

Graffiti can incite violence and provoke racism as seen in the past in so many countries. The detrimental impact is not only on the property owner; it is often linked to other crimes as well.

A Swedish research found escalating deviant behaviour amongst taggers (who draw graffiti). In Australia, the annual cost for cleaning the drawings is around 200 million Australian dollars. Thus, around the globe it has evolved from being mere anonymous artwork to pressing criminal activity.

Why indulge in graffiti?

Research has found that young adolescents are more involved in such drawings. To relieve boredom and stress, and gain recognition for their artistic talent, young people get inclined to tagging. Dr Lynne Vieraitis and Arthur Vasquez interviewed 25 Dallas taggers to explore why they paint graffiti and how they rationalise the crime.

The taggers claimed that no physical harm is caused, and reasoned that instead of tagging, they could have been involved in gang activity or other crimes. Some answered that the drawings can be cleaned easily and by defacing property, they were actually providing work for the cleaners.

Expression of thought is our freedom and protesting against the wrong is a right, but the voice has to be raised in a proper way and through an appropriate medium

This kind of self-justifications can be related to Drift theory by prominent criminologist David Matza. He theorised that the delinquents do not see their work as a crime because they don’t realise the crime they commit by damaging someone’s property.

At home sweet home

The walls have been used as a tool of manifestation by the political activists since the British era in the sub-continent, often bringing about significant change in the system.

The graffiti work of “Subodh” have become quite popular in Dhaka city, which started appearing on the walls earlier this year. Subodh portrays a young man holding a cage with a trapped sun inside and wears ragged trousers. The graffiti series has been compared to the works of Banksy and some referred to it as “an emerging artistic medium to voice our subliminal concern.”

Graffiti is used as a medium of expression to raise awareness against different social maladies, especially the political crises and social anomalies.

Due to the mysterious messages in the Subodh drawings, they can be deciphered as a kind of protest graffiti. Such graffiti have evoked people’s sense of right and wrong throughout the course of time worldwide. But at the same time, anonymity and resentment towards authority are always subject to criminal behavior.

Teenage gang vandalism is also visible in some parts of the cities in our country. These gangs draw graffiti to mark their self-claimed territory and write on the walls or gates of schools, colleges, and apartments. The damage to private property and the monetary cost involved in washing the paint amounts to a considerable violation of the law.

The newly built gate of Ruqayyah Hall DU was also written on, as a sign of protest a few days ago. “27 bochor ar koto?” drawn with green paint can be linked to the demand of DUCSU election. The cause certainly carries merit with positive aspects here, but what is negative is the ruin of the refurbished and redecorated entrance.

Similarly, during hartals or any such public strikes, we see the protesters write on transport or nearby constructions.

Expression of thought is our freedom and protesting against the wrong is a right, but the voice has to be raised in a proper way and through an appropriate medium.

Causing damage to anyone in the name of freedom of expression doesn’t necessarily justify something wrong nor does it carry the essence of fighting for justice.

Many countries enacted laws intended to restrict graffiti. The legislations focus on vandalism rather than expression, as the value of private property is damaged in the process of drawing graffiti. This act encourages other criminal activities by promoting vandalism.

In Bangladesh, graffiti drawing has not turned into a severe problem yet. But if ignored by the disciplinary forces, the increase in such deviant activities is quite inevitable.

The lack of criminological research in the country exploring the characteristics of graffiti and its motivational causes can prove to be challenging, but will be worthwhile in devising prevention strategies.

Raihan Rahman Rafid is a freelance contributor.

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