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Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | August 6, 2014 | 5.39 pm IST Discussions on sexual violence are welcome as long as they further the discussion and make us think. One of the two recent attempts at a discussion was a series of photographs and the other was a video. Both generated a fair amount of debate. The Wrong Turn Looking at fashion photographer Raj Shetye’s photographs depicting rape, one is reminded of an item song, except the men surrounding her aren’t your typical lumpens. These goons are well-dressed goons, and that, is supposed to make all the difference. Talking to BuzzFeed, Shetye said that the photographs were just a way of “throwing light on it”, and not glorifying the violence. He also said: “The message I would like to give is that it doesn’t matter who the girl is. It doesn’t depend on which class she belonged in — it can happen to anyone.”  Yes it can and does happen to anyone – straight women, lesbian women, gay men, straight men, transgenders. But Shetye’s subject in the photograph is a model. For one, the majority of women in India are not models in designer clothes and make-up. Considering his choice of subject, and his profession as a fashion photographer, it’s a little hard to take his claims about “it can happen to anyone” seriously.  The BuzzFeed story carried a comment allegedly posted by Shetye, implying that women are expected to “dress norm core so as to conform to norms of societal expectation thereby killing her dream to look good & be the cynosure of all eyes. 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 and also what gives the average general public the right to cast aspersions on women and their character if they are well dressed and seen in public”. Well, you can’t blame the man for thinking that all women are “well-dressed” but use public transport and forget about the rest of us who are not well-dressed. We don’t exist. Lets leave out all that and focus on the images. (The images first appeared on Behance website, but were subsequently removed.) One image shows her wearing a short dress and leaning against a seat, with one man in front of her and another behind her. Another image shows her lying on the floor of the bus, with a man’s leg over her. The man’s leg is bare except for a boot. Are these images problematic? After all, Shetye says the “aim is to create art that will gather some reaction in society.” He did get a reaction, all right, and it was mostly one of disgust. He was accused of trying to re-create the rape of the physiotherapy student in Delhi in 2012. These images do not provoke thought, they turn the viewer into a voyeur. People have used photographs to talk about women and their bodies. Project Unbreakable has photographs of people who survived such violence and hold up signs about things their assaulters said to them. These photographs are the difference between victims and survivors. The Scar Project is a series of photographs of nude women whose bodies have been changed permanently by breast cancer. Living in a world saturated by images of “perfect”, “size zero” women who look gorgeous and young all the time, these images us make the viewer think about what it means to be a woman. If you lose your breasts to cancer, are you less of a woman, less of an individual?  Images from The Wrong Turn lead the imagination on. Crime reporting does the same: Where was she raped? How did it happen? What did he do to her? Were her clothes torn? She looks normal in the CCTV footage, did doesn’t looked disturbed. The child was called into the room and she came out crying.  This reporting is accompanied by graphic images of women, quite similar across news channels and newspapers. Disheveled hair, clothes torn, face in hands, or a woman screaming as a man looms over her. Have we as a society become incapable of empathizing with someone unless we learn of “shocking” “brutality”? Rape and sexual violence are words for the world, but it is a private pain for those who survive it. It is the result of society’s failure to treat a woman and sexual minorities with dignity. Rape is a word, the horror of which we must learn to empathise with without being told the details because when describe exactly how it happened, we violate the survivor’s right to privacy. What we need are images and ideas that make us think about why it happens, and not how it happens. We don’t need another version of the balatkaari song. Marrying rape survivors WTF India describes its video like this:  “Hang the rapist Not the victim! India will do anything for Raped girls. protests , posts on Facebook but no one will marry them because those girls have been raped.we asked some some Indian fathers, mothers will they let their son marry a rape victim..what we got is pretty shocking” Admirable effort, except that the video is exactly 1.59 seconds long and has a one-question (or two) interview with seven people. Great idea to make generalizations in a country of 1.23 billion people.  A woman from WTF India went around (don’t know where), stopping people on the street and asking men if they would marry a rape victim, or ask parents if they were ok with their sons marrying rape victims. The video was uploaded on August 3 and has been viewed over 4,75,000 times. Here’s the break-up of the list of interviewees: WTF India interviewed four men of whom one said he would not marry a woman who had been raped. Three of them said yes, because they thought there was nothing wrong in it and believed society should treat them equally. Of the three parents interviewed, none of them were ok with their sons marrying a woman who had been raped. Well, it is actually a great question to ourselves, but when you ask all of seven people whom you stopped on the street, the answers are not indicative of any kind of social pattern, mindset or attitude. Instead, it trivializes the issue. Second, who gave WTF India the right to speak on behalf of people who speak nearly 800 different languages, and say things like: “India will do anything for Raped girls. protests , posts on Facebook but no one will marry them because those girls have been raped.”  Women in India come in many shapes, sizes, castes and cultures and have their own problems and isssues.  Saying “no one” will marry them is a presumption and a factual inaccuracy unless WTF India has confirmation that no man has married a woman who had been sexually assaulted.  While it is heartening to see men say they have no problem marrying a rape survivor, calling them heroes just belittles such men and rape survivors. Women don’t need heroes, to rescue them and men don’t need to be glorified as heroes for doing what is right.

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