Indian photographer Sujatro Ghosh started a photo series on Instagram on June 11, featuring women photographed in different places in public around New Delhi. The one thing out of the ordinary? They’re all wearing a grotesquely huge rubber cow’s head.
Cows are considered sacred animals in Hinduism, which is the primary religion across India. As a result, in some regions the slaughter of cows has been banned, and “cow vigilante” groups have sprung up, exacting revenge on suspected beef-traders. One famous case in 2015 was the Dadri mob lynching, when a Muslim man Mohammad Akhlaq was accused of eating cow meat by a crowd of local villagers. The mob beat him to death at his home, with his family watching. Earlier this year, the western state of Maharashtra banned cow slaughter and the selling and possession of beef – punishable by up to five years of prison.
READ ON THE OBSERVERS >> Why do mobs keep attacking suspected beef traders in India?
India has been dogged by high profile rape cases and episodes of extremely violent sexual assault against women. At an India-European summit in March 2016, leaders from the European Commission called on Indian authorities to “ensure gender equality and respect for women's and girls’ human rights”.
Sujatro Ghosh is 24 years old, and comes from Calcutta. He describes himself as an artist and social activist. With his photo series, he wanted to draw attention to the fact that the protection of cows is more enshrined in law than the protection of women.
"If we protect cows, why can’t we protect women?"
In a country like India I think women’s rights is such a big issue. We have been fighting for this for a long time. The biggest problem is implementation of laws. I was thinking about how I could contribute [to the protection of women’s rights in India], and how I could contribute through my art. This news about the cows was going through my mind and I thought, ‘Why can’t I make something like this in an artistic way?’ A woman steps out in Delhi and she’s wearing a cow mask – I wanted to see how people would react. I got this mask from New York. When I got back to India I started photographing some of my friends and acquaintances in the mask. Some of my friends really rejected the idea, and said they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it. But then the first photo on Instagram was really successful and now lots of them have changed their mind.
Ghosh has been publishing his photos on his Instagram account.
The underlying idea is that it seems that cows are more valued than women are. If we protect cows, why can’t we protect women? Cows are seen as the mother of Hinduism, but women are the mothers of our society.
The photos are primarily taken in Delhi and also in Calcutta, but I’m planning on moving around the country and doing it more. [Editor's note: Ghosh has set up a crowdfunding campaign to enable him to continue the project in other parts of India]. I’m travelling to South India first, which is quite liberal when it comes to beef eating. Then I’m going to the north east where they are less strict as well.
The reaction to this project has been overwhelming. I started it on Instagram, where people really appreciate artistic things. On Facebook and Twitter you get more aggressive comments. I’ve been receiving angry tweets, but my intention is never to be political.
You can’t change people’s beliefs in one day or even one year. These ideas are so deep-rooted, they can only change over generations. When it comes to women’s equality, there is always something we can change.