An Indian fashion shoot sparked outrage and calls for legal action on Wednesday for showing a woman being assaulted on a bus, echoing a fatal gang-rape that shocked the nation.
The project by photographer Raj Shetye called “The Wrong Turn” appeared in his online portfolio in recent days before being taken down, but the pictures have since been carried by various media outlets.
They show a female model dressed in high-end fashion garments being groped on a bus by a group of men, also stylishly dressed, in various poses.
In one image, the woman is on the floor with a man standing over her, while one shows her struggling with two men gripping her arms, and another has two men pinning her down on the seats.
The shoot has drawn a torrent of criticism on social media in India, where the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in December 2012 sparked nationwide protests over levels of sexual violence against women.
Nirmala Samant, chairwoman of the National Commission for Women, has written to Mumbai’s chief of police calling for an investigation over the photographs.
“Any person with common sense will understand this is nothing but glorifying of violence,” Samant told AFP.
“I’m of the strong opinion that there should be some legal action because this is not artistic freedom, certainly not.”
Mumbai-based Shetye issued a statement in defence of his work, saying he had “tried to express myself through the medium I know best” and that the controversy was based on misinterpretation.
“The aim is purely to create art that will garner public opinion about issues that concern women,” he said.
“It breaks my heart to see my mother, my friends, my sister constraining themselves professionally and personally just to be safe.”
He said the clothes’ designers had not been credited as the shoot was not for commercial gain.
In the 2012 attack in New Delhi, a gang of six men raped a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, including with an iron rod, after she was tricked into boarding a private bus on the way home from the cinema with a male friend.
The woman died 13 days after the attack from her injuries, after being airlifted to a Singapore hospital for specialist treatment.
The parallels in the fashion shoot drew anger on Twitter, with users describing the images as “shocking”, “disgusting” and “mind boggling”.
In a blog for The Times of India, Delhi-based journalist Rudroneel Ghosh described the project as a “huge blunder”.
“When you get models to dress up in stylish couture and enact a gang-rape scene, but minus the dread and terror, you end up glamourising a crime against women,” he said.
Four men were convicted and sentenced to death last year over the 2012 attack. Another was found dead in his cell in an apparent suicide and a juvenile was sentenced to the maximum of three years in detention.
The gang-rape shone a global spotlight on India’s treatment of women and led to tougher laws to deter rapists, although attacks continue to be reported across the country daily.