With India’s notorious record in rape and sexual assaults against women, more women are pushing back and protesting the culture of violence and abuse against their kind. One of the recent campaigns of Indian women is to pose in cow masks as part of a bold photographic series that forwards the question: is it safer to be a sacred animal in India than a woman?
Statistics show that last year, at least six rapes and 12 molestations were reported daily in the country’s capital, New Delhi. Then there’s still the memories of the harrowing gang-rape and murder of a Delhi student in 2012 which triggered a national conversation about violence against women.
The conviction rate for sexual offenses has declined in numbers, from nearly 50% in 2012 during that infamous Delhi attack, to less than one-third last year. Women’s groups say the prevailing sexual crimes against women is due to a combination of factors including the deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes, poorly trained or insensitive police and inadequate street lighting and CCTV cameras in parts of the city.
During the same period, there has also been an increase in violence against religious minorities and low-caste Hindus for the sake of protecting cows, an animal that is revered by many Indians.
Kolkata artist Sujatro Ghosh’s latest project combines the two trends and features women wearing cow masks posing in various landmarks outside, on trains, or inside their homes. The artist was, however, quick to clarify that: “The core issue is women’s rights and protection. I’m not against protecting cows, I love animals. But I’m concerned about my country’s socio-political scenario.
Ghosh only meant to highlight the difference in attitudes towards women and cows, while at the same time showing solidarity with all victims of violence, whether by men against women or by a mob.
Data journalism website IndiaSpend found that 97% of cow-related violence the past eight years happened after 2014 after India elected a Hindu nationalist government led by prime minister Narendra Modi. Modi campaigned to ban cow slaughters, but he has also condemned mob killings. Lower-ranked members of his party, however, justified the violence for the sake of defending cows.