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Sujatro Ghosh: Politics suppresses the real issues

This is about women's safety not secularism, says photographer Sujatro Ghosh, whose pictures of women in cow masks is riling up right-wing trolls

I am not responding to the negative comments [I have been receiving] because I believe dumb people don't have enemies. For now, I prefer to be dumb," says Kolkata photographer Sujatro Ghosh, when we reach out to him to discuss his untitled photo series that's the talk of the Internet.

Featuring solo shots of women going about their average day, wearing cow masks, the pictures have gone viral. Ghosh takes the stance that in India, cows are assured better protection than women. The series is morbidly well-timed, with incidents of lynching reported almost every day.

Junaid Khan, 15, was stabbed to death in Ballabhgarh, Haryana by a group that mocked his skull cap and called him a beef eater after an argument over train seats broke out between them on a journey from Delhi to Mathura. On June 29, meat trader Alimuddin aka Asgar Ali's death following violence by a 100-strong mob in Jharkhand's Ramgarh district followed a nationwide campaign titled #NotInMyName to question the pattern of attacks on members of the minorities and the government's silence over the violence. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging cow vigilantes not to resort to violence, the incidents continue. "The point is that they don't get the point," says the 23-year-old, "it's not about the cow. It's raising a social issue about women safety in India. I never meant it to be political."

The idea took seed one restless night in June when Ghosh was in New York. When he returned to Delhi, he began shooting the frames. "The most challenging bit was to get the women to wear the mask, which by the way, I bought in New York. So, I ended up asking friends and acquaintances to pose," he says. The first picture was taken in front of the iconic India Gate where one of Ghosh's friend, who doesn't wish to be identified, stood. The other pictures were taken on a boat on the Ganga and in a meat market in Kolkata, and even in front of the President's House in Delhi. With around 20 pictures in the bucket, the photographer is now running a crowd funding initiative to raise money to take his shoots across the country. "Many people, especially women, have come forward to help. They say they too will pose for me, and I don't just mean Indian women, but those from Sri Lanka, Italy and Amsterdam."

Like with all reactions on the Internet, not all of it has been happy. "I have been told that I and the models should be slaughtered and fed to anti-nationals like Shobhaa De. Last night, someone on Twitter told me I should go to Pakistan and try to do this there. I will realise that India is secular. Which brings me back to my point. This is not about secularism. It's because of people like these [trolls] that the real issue at hand is often suppressed or coloured into a political one. My pictures are not about dividing us from us."

Not that Ghosh is fazed. He is committed to soldier on, because all he wants to do is raise the original question behind the series.

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