Everyday sexism

What should the graphics for a news report on rape look like? #RedrawMisogyny has some ideas

Often, images depict the survivor cowering in the centre, as perpetrators lurk menacingly over her.

News reportage on sexual assault, especially rape, has increased noticeably in India since the rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012. Unfortunately, though, this coverage has not always come with increased sensitivity – several Indian news organisations still rely on a set of ghastly “stock images” to represent rape.

In July 2016, BBC reporter and former South Asia editor Joanna Jolly wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review that the big four English language newspapers in India seemed to have greater room for reportage on rape since 2012, but their narratives were becoming less sympathetic. While this was most evident in the increased number of reports about “false rapes” (or cases of rape where the survivor retracted her case, before the court had reached a verdict), Jolly noted another problem:

“There could be better press regulation to prevent salacious and sensationalized coverage, greater sensitivity in reporting, the inclusion of non-PLU [people like us] cases, the appointment of specially-focused gender reporters and the reframing of rape from a lust crime to a political, economic, and social phenomena.”  

This February, Malayalam news channel Kairali TV was called out for their insensitive reportage on a case of sexual assault. Media platforms across the board have made similar mistakes when reporting on rape, their errors ranging from victim-blaming to divulging personal details about the survivor.

On April 16, photographers, graphic designers, artists, journalists and social workers came together in Delhi for a daylong workshop organised by non-profit Breakthrough.tv and Instagram, with support from the International Center for Journalists, to think about and possibly revise the visual representation of sexual harassment, gender-based violence and rape in mainstream media. The workshop, called #RedrawMisogyny, had a twin purpose: pinpoint what’s wrong with image-making around gendered and sexual violence currently, and present alternatives that, in the best-case scenario, could change the narrative around rape from victim-shaming to focusing on the perpetrator.

“Often, you will see the victim or survivor at the centre of the image, with the perpetrator in the shadows or a hand coming out of the corner of the picture towards the girl,” said graphic designer Shashwata Nova of Breakthrough.tv at the workshop.

Of course, an illustration or photograph made in this mould has the benefits of a cliche: the image is easily recognisable by readers as having something to do with gender-based violence. It’s also an easy go-to for copy editors who search stock photos and image banks, and may process dozens of articles a day in some cases.

“These images subtly build a narrative in your mind about the helplessness of the woman and the superiority of the man,” Nova added.

Turn the point-of-view around, however, and you draw attention to the perpetrator instead. This kind of imaging may have the benefit of being new – at least for a while – as well as turning unwanted attention away from the victim and focus it on to the perpetrator.

Created by designers at Breakthrough.
Created by designers at Breakthrough.

Trigger warnings

In May 2002, Wendy Larcombe, an associate professor at the Melbourne Law School, published an article titled The ‘Ideal’ Victim v Successful Rape Complainants: Not What You Might Expect, in the journal Feminist Legal Studies. The paper revealed biases around how a rape survivor is expected to behave and the weight appearances carry, even in a court of law to get a conviction.

“It is well established in feminist legal critique that female complainants are discredited if they fail to conform to an archaic stereotype of the genuine or ‘real’ rape victim,” Larcombe wrote. “This victim is not only morally and sexually virtuous she is also cautious, unprovocative, and consistent. Defence tactics for discrediting rape testimony involve exposing the complainant’s alleged failure to comply with the sexual and behavioural standards of the normative victim.”

Images that try to recreate the scene, or show a distraught woman whose world has seemingly fallen apart, or use colours like red and black that suggest blood and something sinister, can hold up the process of recovery. “Imagine what the rape survivor feels when she sees illustrations like these,” said Nova. “You are recreating the horror.”

So, the Breakthrough team suggested producing images that show a support structure for rape survivors: family, medical professionals and police, the justice system or support groups, or making images which focus on the victim’s life beyond the incident.

For graphic designer Bhanu Pratap, one takeaway from the workshop was the need to apply ideas of empathy, justice and agency to the image-making process. A second lesson, he said, was that you need to tag the images with proper keywords. “You can’t control the context [the images will be used in] indefinitely, but you can tag the images properly, lay out the context for which they were created,” he added.

The way forward

File images of protestors, especially the large numbers who poured out into the streets of Delhi in January 2013 to demand justice for the physiotherapy student, are still used sometimes with stories and columns about gendered violence. But there are also ways to make photos and illustrations for the specific context which are sensitive and to the point.

Among some of the interesting ideas which emerged from the workshop was making photos which show the role of the bystander, focus on support groups to highlight the process of recovery, and to build a bank of images which show up behaviours that are normalised, but should not be.

The workshop was designed to come up with broad guidelines for what an image about gendered violence should look like, and help designers, artists and writers to create images which avoid obvious traps like stripping the victim of agency, recreating the assault, perpetuating ideas around the helplessness of the victim or the shame and stigma that are often attached with rape.

At the end of two weeks, Breakthrough will again meet with the artists and designers, and ask them to share their work under the Creative Commons licence and with media houses.

Created by designers at Breakthrough.
Created by designers at Breakthrough.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.