Delhi ‘gang rape’ fashion shoot angers world

A fashion shoot depicting a woman being sexually assaulted on a bus stirs memories of the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape, outraging everyone.

The photo series, called The Wrong Turn, shows a young woman in different outfits fending off a group of young men on a bus. With its allusions to the grisly details of the infamous Delhi 2012 gang rape incident, in which 6 men assaulted and raped a 23-year-old woman in a bus, resulting in injuries that her death afterwards, many have condemned the fashion spread. 

Taken by Mumbai-based photographer Raj Shetye and posted earlier in August on the photography site Behance, the photos caused uproar among the rape victim's family, women's rights groups, and netizens around the world, with commentators accusing Raj of exploiting the 2012 incident and glamourising the act of rape. The photos have since been removed from its original site though they have been republished on news websites. 

A wrong turn, indeed, for Mumbai-based photographer Raj Shetye, whose fashion spread entitled The Wrong Turn, evoked uneasy allusions to the Delhi 2012 gang rape incident and sparked international outrage over what some have called "exploitative" and "glamourising" images of rape. 

The controversy over Raj's photos reveals how unsettling the issue of rape has become in India, a country still reeling from the violence of the Dec 2012 case. Two years ago, it triggered days of street protests over pervasive violence against women and raised calls for tougher law enforcement and sentences for perpetrators of sexual violence.  

The woman, a 23-year-old physiotherapist, was lured onto an unlicensed bus in New Delhi together with a male companion, Awindra Pandey. When the bus suddenly changed route, Pandey protested but was beaten until he was unconscious. Meanwhile, the woman was dragged to the back of the bus and repeatedly raped and tortured by five men and a teenager. 

Suffering extensive injuries to her private parts, abdomen and intestines, the victim underwent emergency procedures, including removal of her intestines. Despite doctors' efforts, however, she succumbed her injuries 13 days after the attack. Of the six accused of her rape and murder, one committed suicide in jail and four were sentenced to death by hanging. Meanwhile, the teen was remanded in a juvenile reform centre.

The mother of the woman killed in 2012 says the photographer was mocking her daughter and trying to hurt her parents. “It has once again brought us face-to-face with the incident and he has done it for his own publicity and to make money,” the mother said. “He has tried to hurt the sentiments of parents and has mocked a girl’s struggle. He has no right to play with anyone’s sentiments.”

The woman’s father said he would appeal to the courts to take action against Shetye. “They should be ashamed of it. What is he trying to show to the juveniles and youths of the nation? He should be punished. I will appeal the Supreme Court to punish him and the photo shoot should be banned,” he said. 

Under Indian law, the name of the victim and her relatives cannot to be published, unless with the family's permission. Some have referred to the case as the "Nirbhaya rape" – nirbhaya meaning "the fearless one" in Hindi. 

Two of the five images (above and below) from Raj's photo shoot that have been reproduced on various websites. Many have expressed outrage at the images, shocked by its glamorous treatment of a highly contentious subject.

Art? Or cheap publicity?

Shetye was quoted on Buzzfeed news site as saying he was merely trying to depict the plight of Indian women and denied attempting to depict the exact scene of the Delhi gang rape.

“But being a part of society and being a photographer, that topic moves me from inside,” he was quoted as saying. “I stay in a society where my mother, my girlfriend, my sister are out there and something like this can happen to them also. “Being a photographer, the only medium I can communicate in is photos. For me, its as simple as that. It’s art.” Shetye was later unavailable for comment.

Lawyer and women’s rights activist Abha Singh accused Shetye of seeking cheap publicity by glamourising rape. “The gang rape brought many people on the streets. It was such a horrific incident that cannot be justified. But if Mumbai’s celebrity photographer makes a photo shoot and models enact that gruesome incident to make money, this is cheap publicity for a commercial venture,” said Singh. 

The Delhi gang rape forced the government to amend laws and put in place stricter punishments. It also brought greater public awareness about crime against women, with police saying the outcry over the 2012 case making women more willing to report rape. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of rape cases in India rose 35.2% to 33,707 in 2013 compared with the previous year – with Delhi alone reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013. – Reuters