What’s one way to draw lots of attention to an issue? Combine iconic religious imagery with modern day problems. That’s what the new “Abused Goddesses” Campaign highlighting domestic violence in India is doing. The campaign depicts hand-painted images (based off of photos taken with real models) of Hindu goddesses bruised, battered and beaten with this caption at the bottom:
Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.”
Adjacent to this message is a telephone number to report cases of domestic abuse. The images are visually beautiful and attention-grabbing, making them a powerful tool for drawing attention to their message.
We’ve heard a lot recently about violence against women in India, sexual violence in particular. But this new campaign is expanding the lens of how we’ve been looking at violence towards Indian women. The campaign is reminiscent of the first public campaign against domestic violence in Saudi Arabia that showed women with black eyes in burkas that effectively brought about the Protection from Abuse law. Created by the Save Our Sisters (SOS) women’s empowerment initiative of the non-profit Save the Children India, SOS is working to prevent the trafficking of young girls into sex work. This campaign takes their mission a step further in not only working to prevent sex trafficking, but working to prevent and stop domestic violence, often a symptom that comes with trafficking.
Crimes against Indian women have increased across most categories in recent years. A look at the Crime in India 2012 Report shows that assaults on women by husbands or family members had the second largest increase since 2008, close on the heels of kidnapping and abduction which had the greatest increase. Domestic violence is a large and growing problem in India. According to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, in-country sex trafficking of women and girls is a huge problem in India. Increasingly, young girls are at risk of being trafficked for the child sex tourism market and many women and girls who run away to escape abusive husbands are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. Although exact statistics on the trafficking of and domestic violence against women and girls remains impossible to fully capture due to the amount of under reported data, the approximated figures still provide us with a picture of the prevalence of these problems.
In 2005, India passed the progressive Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), a rights-based piece of legislation that was stricter on punishing offenders and expanded the definition of domestic violence to include non-physical and sexual violence. An evaluation of the Act by UN WOMEN, the Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative and the National Mission for Empowerment of Women found that although the law is working in some instances, entrenched gender biases and patriarchal beliefs persist.
The new Abused Goddesses campaign is genius in a number of ways:
1) It points out the irony of the oppression of Indian women juxtaposed against female deities in Hinduism, the largest religion in the country.
2) Using bold religious imagery forces people to pay attention to the message. Whether people agree with it or not, this campaign forces a conversation around domestic violence and the trafficking of women and girls.
3) The images combine art with reality. The images are beautiful and realistic looking. They’re not abstract images open to interpretation and subjective points of view. They are direct and explicit: this is what domestic abuse looks like on Indian women, important Indian women.
So, will this campaign create enough stir to bring about better implementation of the domestic violence laws India already has in place? Time will tell. But for now, we can be sure that this campaign has been effective in opening up the dialogue about domestic violence in India and setting the bar when it comes evocative and haunting awareness-raising campaigns.
For more information on domestic violence and trafficking of women and girls in India, check out these resources:
- Nicholas Kristof’s article “The 21st-Century Slave Trade”
- CNN’s The Freedom Project “India’s sex slaves face lifelong cycle of abuse”
- Apne Aap Women Worldwide
- Also, check out this video on domestic violence against women in India from Maitri India: