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Indian comic book hero crosses boundaries as rape survivor

The comic is about a protagonist who following a gang rape and subsequent social isolation, sets out to inspire social change

Nabila Pathan

Published: Updated:

She’s a superhero unlike any other. She rides a lion and gets her cosmic powers from the Indian goddess Parvati. Priya Shakti is a rape-survivor who is making global headlines for being the first Indian comic book hero launched to fight gender based sexual violence.

The comic is about a protagonist who following a gang rape and subsequent social isolation, sets out to inspire social change. Created by Filmmaker Ram Devineni, who having been moved by the reports of the infamous Delhi gang rape in 2012, set out to write the comic book Priya's Shakti. To understand the impact of rape, Devineni spoke to several rape survivors and discovered the difficulties the women faced when they tried to seek justice.

‘I was talking to a police officer when he said something that I found very surprising. He said ‘no good girl walks alone at night,’’ Devineni told the BBC. ‘That’s where the idea began. I realised that rape and sexual violence in India was a cultural issue, and that it was backed by patriarchy, misogyny, and people’s perceptions.’

Everything, in the comic is committed to placing the spotlight on women's safety and women’s empowerment. The comic can be downloaded for free on the website. According to the site:

The project centres on the Goddess Parvati and Priya, a mortal woman devotee and survivor of rape and is rooted in ancient matriarchal traditions that have been displaced in modern representations of Hindu culture.

‘It creates an alternative narrative and voice against [gender-based violence] in popular culture through the Hindu mythological canon.’

The news coverage of the savage bus gang rape in Delhi in 2012 created an outpouring of national outrage. The incessant reporting of the brutal incident with uncensored descriptions of metal rods, ripped intestines and angry Bollywood stars fed the 24-hour Indian news cycle. But the impact of the story survived beyond the short-term buzz of the news cycle, capturing the public's attention in a way that marks a turning point in India's history.

There has been a growing movement challenging indifference to patriarchy and misogyny. In India public conversations about rape and sexual violence against women increasingly explore this real problem as a symptom of cultural attitudes which have stemmed from Indian society being male-dominated and patriarchal. The comic reflects a commonly entrenched view that women are the culprits in their own attacks.

The superhero Priya is also blamed for being raped in the comic story. This sets the stage for her to seek help and refuge in the Hindu Godess Parvati, who in turn gains powers to return back riding on the back of a lion to seek out the criminals in order for justice to prevail. The plot finishes with a battle between heaven and earth. The connection to the Hindu faith was deliberately chosen to resonate for the Indian audience in a Hindu-majority population.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Dan Goldman, the comic’s artist, explains: “Stories like Priya's are in the news often these days, not just in India but in all nations and online.

‘With Priya's Shakti came the chance to put a symbolic face to this issue and enlighten all genders about sexual violence, and there’s no format better suited to this than the instantly accessible medium of comics.’

Funded by Tribeca Film Institute’s New Media Fund and supported by the Ford Foundation, this comic book initiative forms part of a wider multi-media project by the same name Priya Shakti, and runs workshops, organises documentary films, street art and Augmented Reality (AR) initiatives through apps. This story telling project targets young children (10-12 years of age) to young adults with the aim of raising awareness and challenging social attitudes towards gender based sexual violence.