How Indian Women Are Using Cow Masks To Make A Feminist Statement
India has seen a rise in "cow-protection" laws over the last few years that carry lengthy sentences and harsh punishments for people who kill the animal that's considered holy in Hinduism. Long familiar with debates over these laws, one 23-year-old artist is using cow masks to protest how increased violence against women is oftentimes ignored in favor of cow squabbles in India.
Sujatro Ghosh, an artist from Kolkata, India, said that his project was inspired by his own questions about why the same feverish approach to codifying protections for cows wasn't extended to women in the country. In India, harming a cow can yield a swift and harsh prison sentence of nearly ten years (or even inspire vigilante justice) but survivors/victims of rape can wait months before they see results from reporting their assaults. The fact that women have seen a marked increase of violent crimes in recent decades makes it even more unbelievable. As Ghosh told The Times of India:
I cover women's issues in my work. I have been following the cow protection debate and then the first thing that came across my mind was, 'Why not women?' That's when I thought that I need to do something.
And that something was to stage a series of striking (if initially bizarre) photographs of women going about their daily lives— while wearing cow masks. Despite the initial whimsical vibes, the images (in context) force viewers to question whether a woman might be safer if she appeared a bit more bovine-like.
For Ghosh, the energy and legal attention afforded to whether or not people can eat cow in India (notably, he tells The Times of India, the laws disproportionately affect Muslim individuals) seemed bizarre compared to how little of that same attention is paid to passing laws that protect women.
Particularly as, in 2015, India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported that there were at least 34,651 cases of rape reported across the country. And as most local women's groups note, that number doesn't include how the stigma surrounding sexual assault leads to severe underreporting of those kinds of crimes.
Per Ghosh's note, which he's attached to each of his photos on Instagram, he is continuing his "protest" by photographing women from all walks of life:
In my country Cows are more important than a woman's life with more security. (Reference: Majority of Hindus believe cow as their holy animal and they worship it though Majority of Muslims consume it as a part of their daily meal.) The debate is never ending "Whether to consume or worship it" but gaining political benefits out of it is wrong. Why not let the people decide what they want to consume. I will be photographing women from different parts of the society. I would be more than happy if you reach out to me and want to get photographed or maybe join this form of protest.
While more than 84 percent of territories in India have these protections for cows, it's projects like Ghosh's that urge people start conversations about the devastating priorities they imply for women.