An awesome new comic is on the horizon, dawning (hopefully) an era of a new kind of superhero.
Illustrated by Dan Goldman and co-written by Ram Devinenin and Vikas K. Menon, Priya’s Shakti is a comic based on Hindu mythology that focuses on a female rape survivor who partners with Goddess Parvati in order to fight against sexual violence and gender-related crimes in India.
Co-creator of the comic, Indian-American filmmaker Ram Devineni, said the idea hit him back in late 2012, during the protests that came about in the wake of a 23-year-old student being raped and murdered on a bus in Delhi
Devineni told the BBC:
“I was in Delhi at the time when the protests broke out and I was involved in some of them. 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.’
“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.”
Much like the U.S., but perhaps more pronounced, India’s society is largely male-dominated. In both places, the onus is largely placed upon the victim, rather than the rapist. Victims are likely to face continued violence, harassment, ridicule, and find themselves ostracized from the community as a result of the abuse they suffered.
On that, Devineni stated:
“I spoke to some gang-rape survivors and they said they were discouraged by their families and communities to seek justice, they were also threatened by the rapists and their families. Even the police didn’t take them seriously.?
See the problem? Indian women truly need a superhero ? a ?shero,? if you will. It’s a wonder the Gulabi Gang didn’t spring to mind for Devineni, as well.
The comic works hard to shine a spotlight on the ugly realities Indian women live with on a daily basis. For example, Priya is blamed for her own rape when she finally works up the courage to tell her parents about it. Out of shame, her parents even banish her from home.
Such stories sound pretty akin to many young Americans? coming out stories, too. That’s another worthy possibility for the new era of superheroes ? superheroes who not only empower themselves by fighting against societal and cultural prejudices, but also superheroes who help empower real people in the real world, helping them to cope with the pressures and bigotry of everyday life. In that sense, such fictional heroes really do become real-life superheroes. That line between art and reality is crossed in a beautiful way, and points to an even more beautiful future. Kudos to Priya and those who helped bring this comic into fruition.
In many ways, Priya is an everywoman character. Devineni stated:
?She is like every boy or girl who wants to live his or her dreams. But those dreams are quashed after her rape.?
But being like every boy or girl in India, and around the world, Priya is available to represent all of us, especially women and young girls. We can all see a bit of ourselves in her, and that is the touching point that allows Priya to help empower each of us, as well.
Thanks to the help of Hinduism’s Shiva and Parvati, Priya is able to flip her tragedy in on itself, opening up an opportunity, in turn. By the end of the story, she rides regally and powerfully back to her home on tigerback in true legendary form and metes out justice on her attackers.
Devineni stated that choosing Hindu mythology as a helpful vehicle for telling the tale of Priya just made sense, considering over 80 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion population are Hindus. Hinud mythology is just part of the fabric of Indian life, and a readymade well of allusions and signifiers to work from.
As part of the comic’s promotional campaign as its release drew nearer, Devineni convinced local street artists and poster painters for Bollywood to paint large murals around the slums of Mumbai, a section of Dharavi known as ?Asias’s biggest slum,? according to the BBC.
To make promotion for the comic even more fun, the paintings also include augmented reality features, which is a new and fun technology that allows people to view such paintings and other objects with their cellphones and tablets to see the paintings come to life with special animations, 3-D images, movies ? you name it. It allows people to interact with their environment in wild new ways, and makes for one hell of a savvy promotional device.
And if this comic has piqued your interest, you’ll be thrilled to learn that anyone from any corner of the world can download a free copy of the book. Printed versions in both Hindi and English will be up for grabs at Comic Con Mumbai this December, as well.
“Our target audiences are children starting from 10-12 years to young adults. It’s a very critical age in their lives and it’s an attempt to start a conversation with them.”
The need for such conversations at such young ages comes out of the knowledge that a rape is reported every 21 minutes in India, and keep in mind, that’s just the rapes being reported. The rape in 2012 that yielded the protests that helped spark the creation of Priya’s Shakti was a tipping point, bringing about public dialogues around rape, and forcing the government to at least introduce anti-rape laws that would better protect India’s women, including the death penalty for especially violent crimes of a sexual nature.
Critics, however, say creating stricter laws can only do so much to combat the problem. Education, awareness and social change are really what’s needed, which is another way of saying Indians, like Americans, need to change themselves from within to really accomplish cultural change, and that is precisely what Devineni hopes his comic book will help do.
Head of the feminist publishing company Zubaan Books Urvashi Butalia believes the comic’s success or lack thereof will depend ?a lot on the story,? as well as its breadth of distribution. She also states that anything helping to stimulate a national dialogue is helpful. Butalia said:
“Many of the changes in the world have come from ideas. And it’s an interesting idea — you don’t get too many female superheroes.”
She’s right, and certainly not of such a type as an anti-rape superhero, though one can see what wonderful sense that makes. It’s an exciting prospect. One can just imagine the satisfaction of reading Priya’s continual fight for justice, vanquishing the world of misogynists and sexual predators and deviants. Do what you like with a consenting partner ? I’m no prude ? but rape is rape, and I’m sure many of us would enjoy seeing such criminals get what’s coming to them.
Founder of Blank Noise Project Jasmeen Pathega runs a campaign called, ?I never asked for it,? referring to rape and sexual assault. Her powerful project creates public installations, both online and off, where she gathers garments worn by rape and sexual assault survivors at the time of their assault and puts them on display. It’s part of what she sees as ?rejecting and arresting blame.?
Pathega knows well the powerful potential in a comic such as Priya’s Shakti. She believes the greatest changes will come about ?when people understand that there is no excuse to justify sexual violence, the garments women wear, what time they go out or the place they go to.?
“Graphic novels, comics, story books, films – all have immense potential to help.?
Surely, there is little doubt about that. The only thing that could make this comic cooler is if it had been created by women.
Check out the Priya’s Shakti Facebook page, here.
Dylan Hock is a poet, novelist, professor and social activist. He is published in a number of little magazines and has an essay on the muzzling of Ezra Pound included in the anthology Star Power: The Impact of Branded Celebrity. Currently, he also writes and edits for If You Only News, Addicting Info, Green Action News, and Take 10. Follow him on Ello, Google+, LinkedIn, RebelMouse and Goodreads. Hire him for freelance writing and editing work on Elance.