A first glance, the photos just look like some people having fun. But the cow masks actually have quite a serious meaning. The photographer behind the photos hopes they will begin an inquiry into whether women are seen as less important than cattle in India.
Sujatro Ghosh, a 23 – year old photographer from Delhi, decided to highlight this debate because he was shocked at how much longer it takes for a woman who is raped or assaulted to get justice in India than it is for a cow.
Cows have for long been revered by a section of Hindis, but over the past few years, under a government consisting of religious nationalists, cows have received a lot of 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 large fines.
“Cow vigilantes” have struck frequently, killing people for merely transporting cows both legally and illegally.
On the other hand, horror stories of rapes and abuse of women continue to make headlines, but remain for the most part ignored. Poor police forces, a lack of sensitivity and excruciatingly slow judicial systems, add to the outrageous mess.
“We wait for verdicts for five to seven years (in cases related to crimes against women)” says Ghosh “when it comes to cows it’s coming up as violence and people are getting beaten up and lynched every day. What is the problem with our country?”The 23 – year old from Calcutta said “physically fighting against some extremists groups was never an option so I took the support of art and collaborated with women and took the protest a step forward through social media to make us (women he is photographing and him) heard.”
His project, he says, is a protest against the increasing number of cow protection groups that have appeared since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
It’s not just Muslims being targeted either, according to Sujatro; almost a dozen people have been killed in the last two years because of the cow.
Ghosh had the idea when he visited New York City earlier this Month, where he decided to buy a few cow masks from a party shop. He then used these to shoot pictures of women wearing them in front of various back drops in India.
The photographer said that he “photographed women from every part of society. I started the project from Delhi since the capital city is the hub of everything – politics, religion, even the majority of debates start there.
Since his first photo, Sujatro has taken photos in various parts of India and is hoping, if he can raise enough money, to travel to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kerala and some parts of Northeast India to spread his message far and wide.
At first, Ghosh had to beg friends and acquaintances to model, but as the project grew, more women stepped up to be part of it. He has consciously kept the identity of the women under wraps. “I think it’s a very sensitive issue and identity here doesn’t matter. It matters what those women think”.
Ghosh, for some of the images, even included quotes from some of the women themselves.
One of the quotes used was “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. 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?”
He started his posts on Instagram but it has gone viral with thousands of people commenting on the pictures.
The majority of the reaction has been positive but he has received a significant number of people threatening him because of his pictures. The threats don’t seem to have bothered him too much though, with Sujatro saying “I’m not afraid because I’m working for the greater good”