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Abused Indian Goddesses: Controversial Ad Campaign Against Gender Violence


Durga, goddess of power, known for invincibility and strength, is my favorite of the Hindu goddesses. I keep a statuette of her in my office.


An Indian charity has launched a controversial campaign against domestic violence.  The posters depict the three most revered goddesses in Hinduism with bruises and cuts on their faces.  Each of the three images in the campaign shows a different goddess: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity; Durga, the goddess of power and strength; and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom.  These goddesses are admired and even worshipped by millions of Hindus.

The charity, Save Our Sisters, aims to call attention to the plight of women in India, where violence against women has become a more prominent issue since the gang rape and murder of a woman riding a bus in Delhi last winter.  The charity intends to increase the salience of rape and trafficking as well as domestic abuse.


The ads themselves pull the viewer in with a visual narrative of how each image, a photographic re-enactment of a traditional scene, was created. The main messages says: "Abused Goddesses."


The ads themselves are striking, with each goddess depicted with her traditional attributes, in a typical posture and setting.  Around the main image in each case are smaller photos showing how the central picture was produced and composed.  The text says:

Pray that we never see this day. Today more than 68 per cent of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.

This is an intriguing campaign in that the images are interesting and beautiful enough to draw the viewer in, even if he or she is not particularly interested in or sympathetic to the fight against domestic violence. The campaign also demonstrates that advertising, so long characterized as fundamentally unfriendly to women by feminist theorists, can be used for feminist purposes and to the end of raising consciousness about the oppression of women. The Indian agency, Taproot, has won a Lotus award for the posters.

The response in India must be mixed. Nihita Ja’s article, “Durga Doesn’t Need Saving,” written for Tehelka.com, gives you a sense of how this is affecting people there.  It’s a passionate (and heart-breaking) litany against those who would pretend this violence is not a problem.  You can imagine that a campaign with the Virgin Mary as an abuse victim would elicit a big response in the Christian world, with the people who would otherwise wish to ignore such issues drawn into the debate by the confrontation.  This contradiction between the reverence of religion and the brute facts of daily life seems a powerful way to frame the debate.



Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity.



Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge and wisdom.


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