‘Nirbhaya’. It’s a word that means so much to those in the Hindi-speaking world. It translates as ‘fearless’ but since the Delhi bus gang rape, it has taken on a much greater meaning. The victim has been labelled ‘Nirbhaya’ and deservedly so. It’s just a shame that two years on from the tragedy, the name ‘Nirbhaya’ has been tarnished.
Images of a fashion shoot, produced by photographer Raj Shetye, have appeared online over the past couple of days and have gone viral. Understandably, many people have denounced Shetye’s work as insensitive and disgusting. The images depict a woman surrounded and harassed by men. She is groped, kissed and appears to be struggling against them. Arguably the most disturbing image is of a presumably naked man dominating her whilst she is on the floor defenceless.
Shetye has defended his photo-shoot but I can’t accept it. What he has done is insensitive and insulting. It’s trivialising the horrific gang rape suffered by a young student who had her whole life ahead of her. It’s trivialising what happens on a daily basis to women in India. It’s trivialising how Indian women can’t even board public transport without fearing for their lives.
Of course, Shetye will never know what Indian women have to endure every day of their lives. We’re not supposed to walk alone after dark for fear that we’ll be raped, we’re not supposed to dress a certain way and we’re not supposed to have a voice. When a crime is committed against us, we’re treated like the suspect. Justice is never carried out and no one does anything. India has a rape epidemic and yet the victims are perpetually blamed.
The ‘Nirbhaya’ inspired photo-shoot does nothing other than glamorise rape and gender-based violence. It reduces the idea of rape into something fashionable and diminishes how devastatingly destructive it is. In the majority of the photos, the female model doesn’t look slightly bothered by the fact that she is being molested, as if to say that rape isn’t really a crime, it’s just a little pest that you have to endure as part of being a woman and really, you should just accept it and even be flattered by it.
Shetye took to Facebook to defend his photo-shoot, saying that it ‘was intentionally done in a bus to cause men to think of what gives them the right to assume that well dressed women in public transport (signifying public spaces in general) can be targets’. Whist those intentions are good, couldn’t there have been a tactful way of doing it? Doing a fashion photo-shoot is not remotely appropriate and instead makes rape and sexual harassment look like something to aspire to because it’s so glamourous, according to these photos.
With such a mediocre representation of an atrocious crime which violates every part of a woman’s life, it is no wonder that there is a rape epidemic in India. If glossy pictures such as those that Shetye has produced are bandied around, no one will ever accept rape as a serious crime. Despite trying to raise awareness, Shetye has only added to the rising cult of misogyny in India, which deems it perfectly acceptable to sexually assault and murder someone solely because they are a woman.