A new superhero has arisen in India in the wake of the brutal gang rape on a Delhi bus two years ago: Priya, a mortal woman who is raped herself, but who fights back against sexual violence with the help of the goddess Parvati – and a tiger…Comic book ‘Priya’s Shakti’ will tell the story of ‘a new hero for modern India’ who fights with goddess Parvati’s help for education and respect for women… In the comic book, rape survivor Priya returns to her village riding on a tiger…
The rape by six men of the 23-year-old Delhi medical student who later died of her injuries sparked national protests and changes to India’s rape laws. For film-maker Ram Devineni, founder of the publisher and film production company Rattapallax, it also led to ‘Priya’s Shakti’, a new comic for teenagers which Rattapallax says is “rooted in ancient matriarchal traditions that have been displaced in modern representations of Hindu culture”, and which is intended to support “the movement against patriarchy, misogyny and indifference through love, creativity and solidarity”.
Illustrated by Dan Goldman, the comic is to be unveiled at Mumbai Comic-Con. It tells the story of Priya, devoted to the goddess Parvati, and as a young girl, full of dreams of becoming a teacher. But she is told by her father to stop going to school, and to stay home and take care of the house. As she grows up, she is the victim of increasing sexual violence, until she is raped – and then thrown out of the family home.
Parvati is horrified to discover what women on earth go through, and inspires Priya to speak out and spread a new message to the world: to treat women with respect, educate all children, and speak out when a woman is being mistreated. Priya, riding on a tiger, returns to her village. She is, said Devineni, “a new hero for a modern India”. An augmented reality version of the story, meanwhile, animates certain panels in the story via the Blippar app to feature documentaries telling the stories of real-life Indian women who have survived sexual assault. The women have been animated to protect their identities.
“I was in Delhi two years ago and was involved in the protests. I asked a Delhi police officer what he thought about what had happened on the bus. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said ‘No good girl walks home alone at night,’ which implies she deserved it or provoked it. I immediately realised the problem of sexual violence in India is not a legal issue but a cultural problem,” said Devineni. “I interviewed gang-rape survivors and they kept telling me that they could not get justice because they were discouraged by their family, community and even the police. The shame was put on them. They lived in constant fear of being killed. This caused a vicious circle, where certain men could commit rape with impunity because they could get away with it.”
Devineni said he developed the story while travelling around India after the Delhi rape. “I grew up reading popular Hindu mythological comics and a common motif was that a villager would call on the gods in dire situations. What was more dire than the problem of sexual violence in India? So, this was the nucleus. [Co-writer] Vikas Menon and I worked on the story of putting Priya, a rape survivor, as the hero and she calls on the gods, but it’s up to her to motivate and challenge society,” said the writer. “Also Hinduism is about conquering your fears, so we wanted to incorporate the philosophy into the storyline.”
‘Priya’s Shakti’ – Shakti is “the female principle of divine energy” – is available free online, and Rattapallax has printed 6,000 copies in Hindi and English for the convention and for educational distribution, as well as painting several large murals from the story on walls throughout Mumbai. Viewers will be able to unlock animation and films when they scan the murals with their smart phones. Rattapallax said it is also open to working with a larger press to get the comic out to more retailers, with ‘Priya’s Shakti’ intended to be the first in a series.
“We made the story fun to read, even though it’s about rape, and challenging patriarchal views. It is perfectly designed for teenagers,” said Devineni. “It can be read in 15 minutes, but the message takes you further and lasts. It’s fully interactive.”
Rattapallax is also asking readers to “stand with Priya” and fight sexual violence around the world by taking a photograph with the character and sharing it on social media, tagging it #standwithpriya. It is partnering on the project with ‘Apne Aap Women Worldwid’e, an NGO which supports at-risk girls and women in India and the US. “Partnering with Apne Aap will ensure our project will become a strategic platform to support the global movement against gender-based violence, and that our comic book will have maximum reach with youth in India, the US, and around the world,” said Lina Srivastava, the project’s social impact director. “Through this collaboration, we are working to build a movement around Priya as a modern Indian hero within the larger global movement by creating shared cultural opportunities for education, dialogue, and social action.”
– The Guardian