Can three Hindu goddesses help curb the rash of sexual assaults in India?
With the country in a full-blown crisis as each week brings news of another gang rape or despicable sexual assault, the non-profit Save The Children India is out with a new ad campaign that it hopes will prompt some aggressors to think twice. (The ad already has its critics, who argue the posters won't give anyone pause.)
The ads, created by Indian ad agency Taproot and described in a story by India Today, feature Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, learning and the arts; Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity; and Durga, a warrior goddess who is often pictured with a lion, holding a gold trident in one of her eight hands.
The goddesses are shown with black eyes and bruises, cuts on their cheeks, drops of blood tearing down their faces. (The ads creators might have considered depicting Durga using her weapon and lion to get some form of creative revenge on her attacker.)
"The challenge that the agency faced was how to create a campaign that hit where it hurts the most?" India Today reports. "Inspiration came from the traditional posters that are seen and worshipped across the country. The idea was to take the images of the goddesses the people prayed to and turn them into something that would shock and bring to attention the reality of domestic violence against women."
India Today writes that the campaign "simply and effectively captured India's most dangerous contradiction: that of revering women in religion and mythology even as the nation remained incredibly unsafe for its women citizens--remember the December 16 Delhi gangrape and more recently, the Mumbai Shakti Mills gangrape, or the numerous cases of rape that are reported from across the country every day?"
Opinions of the new ads are mixed.
One reader named Padmanabhan Jaikumar writes: "These Bruised, battered... these images of goddesses will have no effect on rapists in India particularly persons like Asaram or Delhi and Mumbai gang rapist. If they get a chance wont hesitate to bruise and molest a women in front of the Goddess too."
It's hard to say with certainty just how many women in India are forced to deal with the scourge of rape.
As Australian journalist Amanda Hodge points out in a recent column for The Australian newspaper, the India media typically give front-page treatment to the rapes of middle- and upper-class Indians, but more often than not overlook the sexual assaults of lower-class women.
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead