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3:47 am
Sun February 9, 2014

The World's Most Optimistic Law: Banning Graffiti In Karachi

If there was a competition to find the world's Most Optimistic Law, then here's a promising contender.

A law has just been introduced in Pakistan that bans people from scrawling graffiti on the walls of Karachi, a vast, chaotic port city on the shores of the Arabian Sea.

It is impossible to drive through Karachi without being struck by the manner in which the city's walls yell at the passersby.

Many are buried between a sea of black and red scribblings, which have clearly been penned with great passion and have often - and this is especially striking to the visitor - been angrily crossed out by rival scribes.

Some of this "wall-chalking," as Pakistanis call it, is the work of sectarian and militant groups responsible for much of the violence that has blighted Karachi, Pakistan's business capital, for many years, and is getting worse.

These groups "spread poison in society by plastering (Karachi's) walls with hate-filled messages and sinister warnings," said an editorial in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper that condemned the vast majority of Karachi's wall-chalking as an "eyesore."

But as the paper points out, many other people are also doodling away on the city's architecture. These range from political and religious parties advertising forthcoming rallies to quacks selling dodgy remedies for baldness and impotence.

The new anti-graffiti law was passed by legislature in the southern province of Sindh, and covers the whole province (of which Karachi is a part). Scribblers caught defying the law by the cops, or "nabbed," as they say here, could find themselves staring at a prison wall for six months, and paying a $50 fine.

Dawn acknowledged this law won't be easy to enforce, so it called on Karachi's roughly 18 million citizens to take the initiative by cleaning off unwanted scrawls on their neighborhood walls.

In a town where gun battles happen pretty much every day, that suggestion also seems highly optimistic.

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