Lifestyle writer Yashi Banymadhub explores how women in Asian communities are exploited by their male counterparts, with a look into recent fashion photoshoot that seems to be glamourising rape.
“‘It’s a little too late for all of this, don’t you think?’ he said. He spoke the coarse Kottayam dialect of Malayalam. He stared at Ammu’s breasts as he spoke. He said the police knew all they needed to know and that the Kottayam Police didn’t take statements from veshyas or their illegitimate children. Ammu said she’d see about that. Inspector Thomas Mathew came around his desk and approached Ammu with his baton. ‘If I were you,’ he said, ‘I’d go home quietly.’ Then he tapped her breasts with his baton. Gently. Tap tap. As though he was choosing mangoes from a basket…Inspector Thomas Mathew seemed to know whom he could pick on and whom he couldn’t. Policemen have that instinct.” (1.55-56)
This extract from The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy depicts an Indian woman being sexually harassed by a police inspector after going to the police station in an attempt to free the man she is in love with. He has been beaten and imprisoned for tarnishing the honor of her family as he belongs to the wrong caste group.
But the highly-emotional and gripping stories of forbidden love and oppression are far from fictional for some women in the Asian community. These women are being exploited by their husbands, male relatives, authorities or even complete strangers who have no fear of attacking them in public. Similar to Inspector Thomas Matthew, these perpetrators are men. They are automatically far more powerful. At least, according those who use traditions and customs to control women and treat them like inanimate objects, stripping them of human rights and snatching their dreams and desires.
Some Asian families become so obsessed with preserving their honour that they put their daughters through ordeals like forced marriages and honour-based violence. The extent to which this society perceives women to be a man’s object for sexual gratification became clear when images from Raj Shetye’s ‘Wrong Turn’ fashion photo shoot emerged, glamourising rape and trivializing sexual assault.
The disturbing images portray a female model fighting male attackers on a bus, which is sickening when you realise that it had been inspired by the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a medical student (dubbed ‘Nirbhaya’ or ‘fearless’) on a bus. The photographer has exploited this young girl’s misfortune and the suffering of countless women who have been through the trauma of rape for his own personal use and financial gain. The backlash caused was massive, with publications like The Times of India the photo shoot ‘appalling’ and ‘disgusting’. Shetye, who has now taken down the offensive images from his website, protested and claimed that he was trying to shed light on the issue of violence against women and that he wanted to address the problems caused by the caste system in India.
However, the tags that he put on his website – ‘HOT’, ‘SEXY’, ‘MALE’, ‘REVENGE’, ‘KIDNAP’, ‘LOVE’-suggested an attempt to turn rape into a sexual fixation. Is it any wonder that no one is ready to believe him? The appearance of the high-fashion models in this photo shoot that we have become accustomed to seeing in glossy magazines, is turning rape into an acceptable, everyday image and is literally glossing over the true horror of this crime and the life-long scars that these women have to live with.
Amor spoke to Sajda Mughal from JAN Trust, an organisation that fights for human and women rights to help prevent atrocities such as forced marriages and violence against women. She told Amor: ‘Studies by UNICEF illustrate around 48% of women in South Asia will be forced to marry before the age of 18 and 42% in Africa respectively. The statistics are harrowing and indicate how prevalent the issue is for children and adults alike. Unfortunately the horror of rape and sexual violence also seem to persist despite the introduction of laws and measures across societies to curb these practices. These twin atrocities are not exclusive to the majority of the world but continue in Western states. Across the world we witness the over-sexualisation of women and girls, these has undoubtedly permeated into societies that are perceived to be ‘traditional’ in outlook. A google search can bring out countless images from renowned fashion houses, film productions such as the some of the Bollywood industry and corporate brands showcasing or glamourising rape scenarios to bolster sales and popularity of their brand.
Statistics support the fact that most women including in India tend to know their perpetrator, without external help from agencies and law enforcement it becomes nigh on impossible to report a sexual crime and upholding justice. Sadly the caste system in India can pave the way for certain discriminatory practices to go unpunished. Mainstream media is however, beginning to highlight these cases and those of rape across India – this is a powerful way to document atrocities, educate masses and challenge mindsets.’
On the 15th of August, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, used his first Independence Day speech to address the issue of rape, following a string of high-profile sexual attacks on women. ‘Our heads hang in shame when we hear about rapes’, he said. ‘When a daughter steps out, parents demand to know where she is going. But when a son returns home, does anyone dare ask where he is coming from? He might have been with the wrong people, doing wrong things. After all, a rapist is also somebody’s son.’
The prime minister’s speech has certainly pressed for changes in cultural attitudes but because of the deep-rooted prejudice against women and high tolerance for sexual violence that has plagued India for generations, this is unlikely to happen overnight. Such cases still go unreported and many rape victims are stigmatised and rejected by society for being impure. It’s time to stop chastising the women of India and point the finger to the perpetrator for a change.
Words: YASHI BANYMADHUB