Activists at a protest in Calcutta, June 11, 2013, following the gang rape and murder of a 20-year-old student (Photo: Reuters)
Activist group Avaaz has created an anti-rape billboard campaign intended for a city in eastern India - but it says no advertising companies there will run the ads.
The group planned to launch the campaign in Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, with billboards featuring an image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, alongside the message "Mamata Banerjee: Stop attacking protesters. Start attacking the problem. Stop rape in West Bengal."
By placing the billboards in Calcutta, the group hoped to draw the attention of Banerjee on her route between home and work.
The Avaaz billboard design (Image: Avaaz/IBN Live)
Avaaz representatives told Thomson Reuters that the five outdoor advertising firms that own the billboards refuse to run them because they fear reprisals from local government.
"There is a regime of self-censorship prevailing in West Bengal now," Avaaz's Alaphia Zoyab told Thomson Reuters.
One of the Calcutta-based firms confirmed that it had refused the ads.
"We did not respond to their request. We immediately stopped thinking of offering our billboards," one senior official said, on condition of anonymity.
Another anonymous agency representative told IBN Live "there is an unwritten guideline. We can't do anything against the government."
But a spokesperson for West Bengal's ruling political party, Trinamool Congress, denied the allegations, calling them a "smear."
"A few New Delhi NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are up to these smear campaigns," Trinamool Congress lawmaker Colin O'Brien told Thomson Reuters.
There was public outrage in West Bengal following the June 7 gang rape and murder of a 20-year-old college student in Kamduni, a village 40 kilometres from Calcutta, and the West Bengal Human Rights Commission opened an investigation into the case.
An online petition started by Avaaz following the murder has received over 17,000 signatures to date.
According to India's National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), reports of rape, dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harrassment, kidnappings, trafficking and other crimes against women were up 6.4 per cent in 2012 from the previous year.
West Bengal had the highest number of reported gender-based crimes in India in 2012 at 30,942, or 12.67 per cent of total recorded crimes against women in the country that year, FirstPost reports.