India’s tattoo industry, which accounts for around one-fifth of the country’s total exports, has been in the spotlight for months, amid criticism that it has become an industry that profits off of women’s bodies.
In the last two months, however, the issue has been under the spotlight again as the country celebrates the 70th anniversary of women being able to get a tattoo in India.
The issue has also been front and centre at the National Women’s Day celebration this week in the capital, New Delhi, which has seen protests by some women about the treatment of women who have received the tattoo.
“The women who are getting the tattoos are all from the same generation, they are all in the same age bracket, they all have similar tattoos,” said Sunita Dutta, a yoga teacher and the president of the Association for Creative Technology.
“But they are not allowed to get tattoos, and in fact, many of them are not even allowed to receive a tattoo.”‘
Tattoo is not just a fashion statement’The Association for the Study of Women’s Issues (ASWIA), a women’s rights organisation based in New Delhi and India’s most influential women’s magazine, has published a book called Tattoo in India that documents the issues women face when they have tattoos.
In the book, published on June 6, the authors argue that the country has no “feminist and secular” culture, and that “women’s bodies are the property of men, they do not belong to them”.
The book also alleges that women are forced into the profession of tattoo artists through the imposition of “tattoo fees” that are meant to “prevent girls from joining the professions”.
“Tattoos are not just fashion statements,” ASWIA’s editorial board wrote in the book.
“Tattoxes, which are supposed to be cosmetic, are a form of coercion.
They have been associated with rape and violence against women.
In fact, the use of tattoos by men to mark the female genitalia has been widely documented.”
Women in the tattoo business in India have long faced stigma, and have been accused of selling their bodies for profit.
A 2011 study by the Women’s Research Institute of India, for example, found that 40 per cent of tattooists had received at least one death threat for their work.
A 2010 survey by the National Commission for Women found that a quarter of women workers in the country have been raped or sexually assaulted.
A 2015 survey by ASWia found that more than half of women surveyed had been sexually harassed by tattoo artists, and an additional 16 per cent had been assaulted.
The tattoo industry in India, however has remained largely untouched by the controversy.
“Torture, sexual harassment and violence are not new to the industry.
It is simply a part of the industry and it is part of its culture,” said Dr Anil Kumar, the president and CEO of the National Tattoo Institute of Canada.
“The industry has always been quite supportive of women in the industry, but there are still things that need to be addressed and we hope that this can be a positive step towards eradicating violence against all women.”
The debate around the treatment and demand of women tattoos has been fuelled by social media, with some women, particularly women of colour, voicing their opinions on the issue.
“There is no question that a lot of the female tattoo industry is working to increase the number of women working in the sector,” said Sharana Sharma, the co-founder of the New Delhi-based online feminist group FemCom, which was formed to support women who want to get their tattoos.
“It is about changing the cultural image of women, but also changing the mindset of women to accept themselves.”‘
I just want to have a beautiful tattoo’While tattoos have been the subject of much debate in the past, the debate over their treatment has intensified in recent years.
In June 2016, a 16-year-old student, Gauri Lankesh, was gang-raped in New York City, and the police did not charge the rapists until three years later, when she was 23 years old.
In April this year, another 18-year old woman was killed in New Jersey, and a judge ruled that the state’s rape laws should not apply to her.
While the legal case against the men accused of the crime was dropped in March this year , the legal battle is still ongoing in the US, where the case has been heard by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of people who are willing to speak out about the horrific rape culture and abuse that they experienced, and we’re seeing women, especially those who are working in tattoo parlours, come forward,” said ASWias president Dutya.
“We need to stop the tattooing industry from turning into an industry where women are not treated equally.”