India seems to care more about its cows than its women.
Cows have for long been revered by a section of Hindus, but over the past few years, under a government comprising religious nationalists, cows have received a rather disproportionate amount of the limelight in the country. There have been calls to amend the Indian constitution to ban cow slaughter, condemning violators to years in jail or imposing fines on them that run into lakhs of rupees. Cow vigilantes have frequently struck, killing people for merely transporting cows both legally and illegally. Dalits and Muslims, two communities that are considered socially and economically backward or lagging, have borne the brunt of this obsession.
On the other hand, horror stories of rapes and abuse of women continue to make headlines, but remain largely ignored. Poor policing and a lack of sensitivity among the police forces and judiciary vis-a-vis sexual crimes, along with an excruciatingly slow judicial system, add to the outrageous mess.
“We’re waiting for verdicts for five to seven years (in cases related to crimes against women),” Sujatro Ghosh, an independent photographer from Kolkata, told Quartz. “When it comes to cows, it’s coming up as violence and (people are) getting beaten up and lynched each and every day. What is the problem with our country?”
For a long time, Ghosh couldn’t think of a creative and peaceful way to stand up for the other gender—until now.
“Fighting with extremist groups was never an option. Art is the most sober way an educated person protests and that’s what I’m doing,” the 23-year-old said. He has now created a photo series “mocking the whole system.” Using female models wearing latex cow heads in his pictures, Ghosh showcases the absurdity of the extent to which right-wing extremists will go to make their point about the cow, even as women’s safety remains sidelined. The as yet untitled project was launched on Instagram, where Ghosh has nearly 23,000 followers, in the second week of June.
At first, Ghosh had to beg friends and acquaintances to model, but as the project received accolades, more women stepped up to be a part of it. He has consciously kept the identity of his models under wraps. “I think it’s a very sensitive issue and identity here doesn’t matter. I’m talking about all the women together,” he said. “It matters what those women think.” So, for some of the images, Ghosh included quotes from the women themselves.
“As a woman, the question of harassment and insecurity has been a part and parcel of my life…But in the past few years, this question has been at the forefront in every single discourse. Rather than addressing it, there have been repeated examples of sidelining it with more trivial matters,” Suchismita, a cow mask-donning subject of Ghosh’s images, told him. “In a country with astounding levels of rape, molestation, abuse, and other manners of crimes perpetrated against women, it is beyond sick that the matter of cow protection and religion has more traction. What use are protected cows and religious sentiments if half the population of the country needs to live in constant threat in order to facilitate it?”
The unnamed subject of the photo below says: “The mask instills a feeling of closure in the world of creepy gazes and lewd comments. This makes me feel empowered and safe. Empowered because I can raise my voice against these political miscreants and safe because it conceals my identity.”
What initially began as a still in front of New Delhi’s iconic India Gate is now blossoming into a pan-India project. If Ghosh is able to raise enough money, he will travel to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kerala, and some parts of northeast India to spread his message far and wide.