In light of the recent controversy surrounding Deepika Padukone and her objectification by the Times Of India, President of the Harvard US-India Initiative Disha Verma and Harvard student Tiana Abdulmassih started a photo campaign for women's rights.
The campaign, titled emBODYindia, asks people to highlight what bothers them most about cultures of objectification, and what changes they want to see in the treatment of women in the public domain.
"We started as a group of Harvard students committed to conveying the simple message that a woman's body is her own, and her clothes are never an invitation," Verma told BuzzFeed in an email. "Our campaign is aimed at the Indian community, but our message is a global one."
Verma felt that, being at Harvard and in the United States, her ability to make an impact on the ground in India is often constrained. "But with the recent incident of a huge newspaper refusing to understand that a woman's portrayal of her body doesn't mean she's 'asking for it', we decided to step it and get our message across."
After the success of their campaign, they are now partnering with No Country For Women and fundraising for them, where all the proceeds will go to women's charities in India.
Tiana Abdulmassih, being a photojournalist, approached this project with the same intensity that she did while photographing the Boston Marathon in 2013, emphasising that she did it because she knew it was that important. "We emailed students in the US-India Initiative that night, spent the next two days shooting, and then published on Tumblr by midnight," she told BuzzFeed via email.
"We want to undertake the daunting task of changing how people think," Verma said. "Yes, we need better laws. Yes, we need better security. Those would be effective, but they don't change the roots of the problem – and that is how people think about a woman in relation to her body. It's the very basic premise of a woman's ownership of herself that we need to accept."
She also said that the campaign has received a lot of attention by the foreign media, as well as dozens of messages from people who support the cause and want to join in.
When asked if soliciting student participation was difficult, Abdulmassih said, "The hard part wasn't a matter of convincing students to join in as much as it was trying to make time to photograph all the people that volunteered. Even the Dean of Harvard College let me take his photograph holding up a sign saying 'Women's rights are human rights'. The support has been overwhelming."
Abdulmassih explained that the first round of photographs were just of Indian students, including herself.
She also added, "The second round we published includes students of all nationalities. I'm actually not Indian at all, I'm Lebanese... We know this is a global problem and our message extends beyond India."
The global relevance of this project and its message are evidenced by the fact that, very quickly, people across the world joined in, submitting their own messages.