Mumbai Photographer’s Sexual Assault-Themed Fashion Shoot Sparks Social Media Firestorm


Mumbai-based photographer Raj Shetye currently finds himself the focus of the kind of social media ire that nobody wants to experience. The source of this outrage is a fashion photo shoot he recently published on Behance (it has since been removed) that depicts an Indian woman fending off the advances of several men on a bus.

The reason for the outcry should be obvious to most people who follow the news. On December 16th, 2012, a young woman nicknamed Nirbhaya (the Hindi word for ‘fearless’) was gangraped on a bus in Delhi, horrifying people the world over.

And while Shetye maintains that his series, dubbed The Wrong Turn, is not based on this incident, it’s understandable why some might draw that parallel and be upset at what they see as the glamorization of a truly horrific act.





Celebrities, fellow photographers and social media commenters the world over reacted with anger and disbelief. Musician Vishal Dadlani, one of the most widely quoted critics, took to Twitter to express his outrage:

Others used Facebook where several fellow photographers shared the photo shoot with varying levels of incredulity. But Shetye isn’t entirely distraught by the reaction.

Though he has gone on record to clear his name, saying that the shoot was “in no way meant to glamorize the act,” and that he simply wanted to shed light on a terrible topic the only way he, as a fashion photographer, could, he seems to think the strong reaction is at least a partially positive thing.

“If this is the cost to set the ball rolling,” he says, referencing the debate on sexual violence that his images have sparked. “I’m okay being the bad guy.”

(via Deccan Chronicle)

Image credits: Photographs by Raj Shetye

  • Vlad Dusil

    Oh social media outrage, how pathetically predictable.

    Personally I don’t see any impending gangrape in this spread. Seen much more sexualizing fashion spreads in the past that nobody was outraged over.

  • Thomas Schlorke

    What about some more empathy especially in a country where this topic is more than sensible at the moment. Just try to feel what women feel in moments of distress… Vlad, then you will maybe see that something is absolutely wrong about this in the context of the incidents in India in the last time. Easy to unterstand, to my mind.

  • Sarah

    There has been quite a disturbing trend of violence against women and police state imagery in so called “fashion” photos lately and it’s really not ok.

  • Adam Cross

    It baffles me how there wasn’t a single person that brought up the fact that this would be an extremely bad idea, maybe that was the point, maybe he wanted the attention. More needs to be done to stop this kind of crap from being produced in the first place

  • Anon

    I think it brings an incredible amount of attention to a topic most people want to pretend doesn’t happen. I’m with the photographer, it sheds light and starts a conversation.

  • Adam Cross

    You might not see impending gang rape but that’s what’s being depicted, it’s as simple as that, plus the setting is on a bus, coincidence? obviously not. It’s not about there being more sexualised fashion spreads elsewhere, it’s about this specific one, right here, and what it means regarding how people think about and treat real womens stories and how they’re willfully trying to make money from their suffering. The outrage surrounding this shoot is extremely justified.

  • Adam Cross

    I disagree with you 100%, It doesn’t shed light on it, it glorifies the male perspective of the situation. If you want to shed light on a topic such as this – there are so many other ways to do it than with cheap, degrading sexual images. Talk to rape victims, produce a documentary piece, produce images that are honest, sensitive and truthful. Not this sensationalist, glorifying garbage.

    Thankfully your assumption that this is “a topic most people want to pretend doesn’t happen” isn’t exactly true. These stories have garnered worldwide attention and outrage, hundreds of thousands of women in India going on strikes and various other protests to have laws changed. This kind of photoshoot is the last thing that Indian women and women worldwide need. The only conversation this shoot has started is about how wrong this kind of shoot is.

  • Ondrej Vranka

    Pictures like this have been made since the artist discovered how to put their work on display for public. There will always be a context making such controversial work disturbing, ignorant and outrageous.

    Remember the benetton commertial photo where a nun kisses a priest? 1982… There are way more controversial artworks and controversy as well as polarizing is and will be a part of art.

    Ethics and Art (what ever that may be…) is a controversy by itself. I’m not advocating the photog. He yet admited, he had done his best, as e.g. a sexworker would do too. And it was for sure not a charity.

    Remember the “photos” of medieval times, where people killed being pictured for decorative purposes? Well, you might say, our society is a little further, but wait.. is it really?

    I actually don’t like the photos espec. the way they were directed. I have some issues with lighting and composition also. But that’s my personal point of view and does not reflect any other mind.

  • OtterMatt

    Still not as fetishized or sexualized as your average Milan runway show. I choose to see this as an awareness campaign, and so I have few, if any, issues with it.

  • Mike M

    How’s that old saying go? No such thing as bad publicity? The real shame is that, at least assuming you believe this was intentional, that it’s getting seen at all. Seems suspect to me, if anything the artist should embrace this opportunity to speak against the event that this is being linked to.

  • OtterMatt

    He seems to be doing so, at least according to his statement at the end of the article.

  • Adam Cross

    the fact that this shoot may or may not be as “fetishized or sexualized as your average Milan runway show” is completely irrelevant. They are two different things completely. Unless of course Milan runway shows have male models attacking female models while they scream out for help? This is not an awareness campaign.

  • OtterMatt

    Wow, I mean, all due respect, but that’s reading a bit much into it, in my opinion. Models screaming for help? The most I’m getting from her in these images is a mild revulsion, and certainly no more emotive than the average model’s expression. The photog himself said it was meant to be an awareness campaign, so unless you know something I don’t, I’m not simply going to dismiss him outright. After all, the discussion has been rekindled, whatever we think about it.

  • Stephen S.

    Respectfully, if you aren’t seeing it, yet everybody else sees it and the photographer himself confirms it’s what he intended (albeit not offensively)…then you might want to go back and look again, or at least reconsider whether that was worth saying aloud.

  • Heni

    I know about the raping in these countries, but hey we also do make Nazi films. AND alot of people like Volkswagen. That’s the Hitler-brand.. Why do we make of fuzz about this?

  • Adam Cross

    well, for one, the photographer only came out and said that /after/ the blacklash. Before that he hadn’t said a word, his original posting on Behance said nothing at all about raising awareness, he’s just back-peddling now that it’s gone badly for him. This kind of work is all about context, had he not been Indian, shooting models in India, on a bus, with these kinds of poses and these expressions then no one would say anything about it. I have no doubt that Levi have run similar campaigns with men grabbing at a women in this way and pulling her jeans off on the sands of a beach or dusty outbacks of Nevada somewhere. But that isn’t the case here. He thought of a controversial idea for a shoot, controversy is usually something i’ll enjoy in a shoot, but the brutal gang rape, and death in this case, of a woman is not something anyone should use as a way to climb the economical ladder and then later try to pass off as “awareness” when people call you out on it. As I said in another comment here, there are other, better ways to raise awareness for such an issue.

  • Grive

    Ding ding ding ding.

    Also, if you don’t see a hint of it in a picture where a man holds a worried/scared looking woman by the torso, in a bus, while another man holds her leg bent… I don’t know what to say.

  • Grive

    He did want attention. And I wonder how many did say it was a bad idea but were convinced by the photog that it would be ok.

  • Stan B.

    At first I wanted to hear the guy out to make sure there wasn’t more there, but there is nothing else- beyond mere surface, as in most fashion photography. He wanted attention big time by trying to shock, and now that it’s bit back, he’s trying to spin this into disguising it as if it was meant to be the impetus for dialogue all along- quick thinking face saving, but lame, and in short, despicable.

    Rape is a serious problem world over, and India has been in the thick of it of late. I don’t know if anyone has seen the picture of the two Indian girls who were hung from a tree after they were gang raped, their mother left them hanging there to make sure everyone would see. It is a most serious problem that has yet to be addressed in a serious and effective manner.

    Can we soon expect a fashion shoot from Mr. Raj Shetye depicting hanging Indian girls in the latest haute couture “to set the ball rolling” yet again?

  • Grive

    I think nobody should pretend it doesn’t happen, and in general, the newsmedia hasn’t done that. Without getting into whether it’s in the public spotlight sufficiently or not, this isn’t the right way to go about it.

    “Shedding light” on a topic does not justify doing it by any means. To say this is a problematic way of doing it is an understatement.

  • Grive

    Do we glorify Nazism? Glamorize it?

    Also, make a Hitler-themed photoshoot. Tell me how it goes.

    No, wait. Don’t do that. It has been done, and it hasn’t gone over well.

  • Ren Arrieta

    It was obvious the photographer was fixated on getting attention to himself at the expense of the gang rape victim while glorifying gang rape of which even animals are not capable of doing.

  • Mike Lerner

    I don’t see anything wrong

  • Stephen S.

    I agree somebody should have objected, although I’m not really surprised no one did. Models and crew are accustomed to following a photographer’s direction. In part, this is because they often can’t see the photographer’s vision during the shoot; the final product often surprises its participants. Shoots have to work that way. In part it’s also simply that—no offense intended—models and crew members tend not to be the most ruminative personality types.

  • Ondrej Vranka

    I would not bring the animal issue here… cuz that’s simply wrong. Or what do you think, happens to e.g. a duck female in city park pond at the right time?

    glorifying violence of any kind is perverted. I hope you swap the chanel while watchin’ news when it comes to “heros of… you name it…” right? Or toss the newspaper displaying a child with half head blown off into a garbage pale… but wait, you’ve spend some money to get the chance to do so! voila….

  • Joshua Reagan

    I thought artistic expression was allowed to push peoples buttons? I guess what people are saying is that we do not want any light shed on this topic, please keep this keep this issue hidden from the public.

    In my opinion, people should be free to express in what ever way they want. There is nothing wrong with people expressing their opinion about what they find offensive, just like there is nothing wrong with someone expressing themselves even if someone finds it offensive.

    The really sad part is that the photographer has sacrificed his integrity to peer pressure and taken down his photo shoot. I wonder how these bullies would respond to a radical religious group using social pressure to remove a photo shoot that was offensive to their beliefs.

  • Stephen S.

    I don’t see anyone saying we should push rape under the rug. If you can’t distinguish between that versus people’s objections to the manner in which this photographer chose to address the subject…well, read closer. He is obviously “free” to exercise this particular artistic vision; many of us simply find it to be poor judgment. You are free to do many things. If you do something dumb, you won’t be thrown in jail, but absolutely expect to be called on it.

  • Stan B.

    I think “artistic expression” refers to matters of: taste, fashion, politics, style, rights, liberties, freedoms, etc What does artistic expression have to do with the forcible physical and mental degradation of a human being against their will to the point where they are left near death, or dead? Where on earth did you learn to equate the glamorization and promotion of gang rape with “artistic expression?” You must be the only person to not have heard that you can’t scream “FIRE” in a movie theater as “artistic” expression- and this is far, far sicker.

    “The really sad part is that the photographer has sacrificed his integrity to peer pressure and taken down his photo shoot.”

    If anything, this guy has proven (twice over) that he has no integrity- first, by embarking on this dehumanizing project, and second, by then slyly trying to reinterpret it as something positive to speak out against these barbarities.

  • Renato Murakami

    Yeah shure, set the ball rolling. Pretty shure he wouldn’t be glamorizing something like that should his mother or sister been victim of it. Or himself. Trample on other people’s feelings to get some attention, one day someone else will do it to you.
    If you are ok being the bad guy you certainly won’t mind if someone beats the crap out of you or puts you in jail for sometime, right? Perhaps someone should do a photoshoot of that too. Just to set the ball rolling.
    See, “set the ball” rolling isn’t a justification for crap poorly thought actions. There is a reason why people reacted the way they did, and a reason why you won’t see photoshoots of terrorist bombings, pedophiles, nazis and whatnot – not without imediate negative reaction anyways.

  • Ren Arrieta

    So sorry to have “offended” you and the animals, hehehe . You are of course entitled to defend the animal kingdom because they are far more “civilized” than the rapist……

  • Ondrej Vranka

    … than so called civilized humanity the members we are pal.

  • Joshua Reagan

    I am not saying that I think his photo shoot is tasteful, artful or made with any good intent. What I am saying is that he can and should be able to create what he wants to create.

    I find it odd that there would be moral outrage over art on a website populated by artists. Moral outrage over art has been a problem for artists throughout history, written works turned to ashes, statues defaced, all in the name of morality. It’s the never ending circle, just because we study history doesn’t mean we learn anything from it.

  • Stan B.

    And I’m saying that anyone should be able to create anything artistically- as long as it doesn’t celebrate or promote the injury and/or possible death of someone else. That really shouldn’t cramp any artist’s style, creativity or freedom of expression- even one doing something strictly for the money (eg- fashion).

  • Jun

    Seriously? Do you even know what was the motive? It was 2012. Dec. 16th Bus gang rape. Five guys rape a girl and she died. And four of them sentence to dearth. One was minor, so the court didn’t gave him the same charge. It’s not acceptable for that matter, especially the photographer is an Indian.

  • Soumen Nath

    Sexual violence has been depicted in Cinema, in literature, in Art. Art portrays whatever happens in real life. Fashion designing is a art form as well, albeit a trendy one. So why all this media bashing?
    Street shows were done after Nirbhaya depicting gang rape , to protest against the incident. If fashion designers do it with their art form, whats the problem?

  • mmdccbslm

    The moral of the story: Photography is not a safe haven from life.

  • mmdccbslm

    Big ups for your first sentence.

    WTF do you mean, “I don’t see any impending gangrape in this spread.”? Your culture must hate women.

  • anthony

    One should photograph Raj Shetye with a monopod shoved up his arse and say it was an homage to the works of Robert Mapplethorpe and to also spread awareness about the problem of prison gang rape

  • Vlad Dusil

    Hate women? Hyperbolic much?

    I can see that in context of history and culture in India, the shoot can be perceived as offensive, but out of context, I don’t sense much aggression in its subjects.

  • Vlad Dusil

    I admit I was too quick to judge, in the context of the terrible abuse of women, the shoot is problematic.

  • Vlad Dusil

    You’re right. in no way did I mean to downplay the terrible context of this spread.

  • Joshua Reagan

    I assume you are excluding movies from this criteria? If not, do you feel Oliver Stone has zero integrity for the movies he has helped create/write?

  • mmdccbslm

    it ain’t hyperbole. you are what you’ve shown yourself to be and your casual comfort with the passive misogyny must have cultural roots. you don’t even recognize it. that’s the saddest part of your problem.

  • Sophy Urchin

    It is not about bringing light to the matter of sexual assault, it is bringing the jumped up hack of a photographer a sht load of free publicity. That is ALL it is. The fashion world is fickle and an empty shell with a nice veneer, its vacuous and cretinous, it stands for NOTHING. This doesn’t bring light, or raise issues, it uses a serious topic, to garner outrage, outrage for the sake of it. Maybe My snappy-hack was losing customers?