Indian women are posing in cow masks as part of a provocative photographic series that asks: is it safer to be a sacred animal in India than a woman?
The gang-rape and murder of a Delhi student in 2012 sparked a national conversation about violence against women but, more than four years later, police statistics show reported rapes and molestations have not significantly fallen in the capital. At least six rapes and 12 molestations were reported daily in 2016.
The conviction rate for sexual offences has declined, from about 50% in the year of the infamous Delhi attack, to less than one-third last year.
Women’s groups attribute the stubbornly high rates to deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes, poorly trained or insensitive police and inadequate street lighting and CCTV cameras in parts of the city.
Over the same period, there has been a surge in violence against religious minorities and low-caste Hindus in the name of protecting cows, an animal revered by many.
The two trends are juxtaposed in Kolkata artist Sujatro Ghosh’s latest project, which features women wearing cow masks posing outside landmarks, on trains, or lounging about in their homes.
“The core issue is women’s rights and protection,” he said. “I’m not against protecting cows, I love animals. But I’m concerned about my country’s sociopolitical scenario.”
Ghosh said the project highlights the contrast in attitudes towards women and cows, while showing solidarity with the victims of both male and mob violence.
“Actually fighting with these politicians or extremist groups physically was never an option … so my primary intention is to create awareness among people,” he said.
Ghosh has been inundated with offers by women to pose for the project, which has grown in popularity over the last fortnight after several high-profile mob killings of Muslims.
An analysis last week by the IndiaSpend data journalism website found that 97% of cow-related violence in the past eight years took place after 2014, when India elected a Hindu nationalist government led by prime minister Narendra Modi.
Modi campaigned on a platform of banning cow slaughter and, though he has condemned the mob killings, lower-rung members of his Bharatiya Janata party have regularly excused or justified violence in the name of defending cows.
Punishments for cow smuggling or slaughter have also been toughened since Modi took power.
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