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.
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.