At first, the image looks like a modern example of the sumptuous religious artwork that came out of India in the past 3,000 years. The eight-armed goddess Saraswati stands imposingly in front of a tree, wielding her bell, trident, ploughshare, conch, pestle, discus, bow, and arrow. Lurking behind her is a lion, perhaps a protective one. One might wonder what he could be protecting the deity from. Then you look more closely: her face, covered in cuts and bruises, is grazed by a single tear.
This image and its companions were created using a "unique blend" of hand-painted backgrounds, model photography, and Photoshop wizardry. They were commissioned by Save the Children India (no connection, apparently, to the UK organization Save the Children, which often fundraises in the U.S.) for its Save Our Sisters campaign to heighten awareness of domestic violence in India.
Isolated incidences of violence against women in India have recently piqued the Western media's interest. For example, a young female photojournalist was gang-raped in Mumbai, a city that is considered to be one of the safer Indian cities for women two weeks ago. A similar attack on a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in December brought thousands to the street in outraged protest, particularly as the young woman died of her injuries two weeks later.
As a result of the latter incident, India introduced tougher rape laws in March, including the death penalty for repeat offenders and those whose victims are left in a "vegetative state."
Unfortunately, like many other countries undergoing rapid social change, India is leading rather than following societal trends. There are mundane stories of day-to-day suffering all over the country of 1.2 billion that the campaign hopes to bring to light. According to the text in the ads, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence, which is probably a conservative estimate considering that domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes in the West.
The intersections between the issues of sexual trafficking and domestic violence in India are greatly underexplored. However, just as it has left as many girls and young women battered like the goddesses in the campaign, hopefully survivors can draw upon these images as a source of solidarity and strength.