Why were Indian women wearing cow masks in protest this year? How are the country’s acid victims rebuilding their lives? Join Culture Trip, as we take a look back at some of the socially relevant and first-of-its-kind events from India that made headlines in 2017.
Acid victim survivors find a way to live their lives again
Seventeen-year-old Ritu saw her life change suddenly. A routine trip to play volleyball one evening turned into a devastating encounter with chemicals that scarred her for life. Despite this, Ritu, and others like her, have found hope after years of pain and treatment. They now live their lives working and raising awareness at Sheroes Hangout, an Agra-based café run and staffed by victims of acid attacks. It’s worrying that India has had 802 separate crimes of this nature reported between 2011 and 2015. To make matters worse, experts claim the number could be as high as 1,000, since many cases from rural areas go unreported.
A satirical comedy highlights India’s sanitation problem
When WaterAid reports that ‘eight Olympic-sized swimming pools could be filled daily with excrement produced by India’s 41 million urban residents who must defecate in the open’, you know the country’s people are in big trouble. Satirical comedy Toilet-Ek Prem Katha (Toilet: A Love Story) highlighted the country’s shortage of toilets. What many take for granted, and consider an absolute necessity, is not an option for almost 70% of households in India.
Delhi’s pollution crisis leaves many gasping for air
If you’re looking for fresh air, Delhi is definitely not the place to be. The effects of simply breathing in the city has been likened to smoking about 50 cigarettes a day and a public health emergency was declared on November 7, 2017. Delhi’s air quality has been on a downward slide for years, and as the country embroiled itself in its usual political blame game, United Airlines cancelled flights, schools were shut and everyone was advised to stay indoors.
Are women in India less important than cows?
Women in India have increasingly been pushing for more rights. This year, they donned cow masks as part of a photography project to mock the country’s state of affairs, asking the question: ‘Are crimes against cows – considered a holy symbol – more concerning than the rampant violence against women in the form of rape or acid attacks?’
‘Cow vigilantes’ took to the streets, attacking anyone they believed had consumed or slaughtered the sacred animals. Why wasn’t violence against women galvanising the same sort of fury? Why was it taking survivors years to get justice? These explosive questions inspired Kolkata artist Sujatro Ghosh’s project.
India tops numbers with most selfie-related deaths in the world
On average, one million selfies are taken round the world everyday and many have lost their lives in pursuit of the perfect shot. According to a study, out of the 127 deaths from March 2014 until September 2016, a whopping 76 (60%) were reported in India. Where did most of these deaths take place? Around the world it may have been from dizzying heights, but in the South Asian country, most people died while posing near water or train tracks.
Delhi’s 10th Queer Pride Parade defies India’s criminalisation of gay sex
Fighting for both love and equality, hundreds of gay rights activists and supporters marched through Delhi wearing colourful costumes and holding balloons. Despite India continuing to outlaw homosexual acts, those celebrating their rights and standing up in defiance against the nation are staying hopeful.
Attitudes are changing in urban areas, but in the more conservative states and rural areas, people still consider same-sex relationships to be shameful. Under India’s anti-gay law, being caught in ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ can lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
In a first for India, Ahmedabad gains World Heritage City Status by UNESCO
Home to ‘Father of the Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi, the historic walled city of Ahmedabad has done India proud. The first in the country to get a UNESCO heritage tag, beating off stiff competition from Mumbai and Delhi, Ahmedabad is a symbol of peace. Home to fine examples of Indo-Islamic architecture and art, it was in this landmark city that Gandhi began India’s freedom struggle. In line with its symbolic heritage, great efforts have been made to transform Ahmedabad into an urban metropolis and a world-class education hub.
Film Lipstick Under My Burkha gives Indian women a voice
After surviving a six-month battle with India’s film censorship board, Lipstick Under My Burkha was finally released on July 21, 2017, and went on to grab several international accolades. The film follows four fiery women from Bhopal, a city in central India, as they try to break free from social constraints. So, what were the board’s reasons for shunning the film?
‘The movie was too lady-oriented, it placed fantasy above real life, and it had sex scenes, abusive words and audio pornography.’ However, Indian cinema is known for objectifying women and Lipstick Under My Burkha defies that very status quo. The film’s release was a big win for women around India, who suffer daily from the constraints of a male-dominated society.
Taj Mahal, the world’s most iconic symbol of love, comes under attack
Hard-line Hindu nationalists campaigned this year to push the iconic Taj Mahal to the margins of history. One legislator went as far as to call the four-centuries-old Mughal building a ‘blot’ on the nation that had been ‘built by traitors’. It’s a difficult period for this Agra gem, with air pollution turning its marble yellow, its minarets obscured by restoration works and tourist numbers slowly dwindling.