Culture & Lifestyle / Priya’s Shakti: The Comic Book Series That Battles Rape, Acid Attack and Human Trafficking

Priya’s Shakti: The Comic Book Series That Battles Rape, Acid Attack and Human Trafficking

Culture & Lifestyle Oct 16, 2019

Filmmaker, comic book author, and women’s rights activist, Ram Devineni has revolutionized the comic book industry. Inspired by well-known graphic novel authors such as Art Spiegelman and Marjane Satrapi, Devineni and his co-creators launched the augmented-reality three-part comic book series, Priya’s Shakti, which combines technology, traditional art, and Hindu mythology to tell the story of a unique super-heroine who fights against gender-based violence in India. 

Priya's Shakti
Author and creator of Priya’s Shakti: Ram Devineni. Photo Credit: Priya’s Shakti

The Priya’s Shakti comic book series, The #MeToo movement and India’s rape crisis: 

Inspired by the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017, well-known celebrity and actress Alyssa Milano tweeted and encouraged spread the hashtag, #MeToo to call attention to widespread sexual assault and harassment. The #MeToo movement gained traction around the world including in India when actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment in October 2018.

While Dutta’s allegations did create a scandal in the Bollywood (Hindi film) industry, it was the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case that was the turning point for the rape crisis in India and released the floodgates into an investigation into the rape crisis in India. The heinous gang rape of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old intern and student, who was attacked by six men on a moving bus for forty-five minutes. Her gang-rape led to large-scale protests all around India’s metro cities including Delhi, Bombay, and Bangalore. According to The Atlantic, the protestors had taken to the streets to demand the faster and effective prosecution of therapists as well as of the rising rape crimes in India.

According to The New York Times, late opposition leader Sushma Swaraj had even raised the idea of capital punishment for the alleged rapists stating that “She will live her whole life as a living corpse if she survives.” Singh’s rape case also led to reactions from many filmmakers including Ram Devineni.

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Priya’s Shakti: Priya’s Shakti spotted at the Cannes International Film Festival with Mindy Kaling. Photo Credit: Priya’s Shakti

Devineni responded with the creation of the superhero rape survivor, Priya in India’s first augmented reality comic book, Priya’s Shakti. He says in an interview with Blippar, “I was in Delhi when the horrible gang rape happened on a bus in 2012 and was involved in the protests that followed. Like many people, I was horrified by what had happened and angered by the indifference exhibited by government authorities at every level. There was an enormous outcry in particular from young adults and teenagers – both women and men.”

During one of our interviews Devineni told revealed that during his research trip in India in the aftermath of the Delhi rape case, he learned from his co-producer, Shubra Prakash, that one of her family members had said that it was better for Jyoti Singh to die because she will never be able to lead a normal life and as a result of her rape, she will never get married if she indeed survives the ordeal.

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Priya’s Shakti: The mural comes alive through the Blippar app for the children in Mumbai’s Dharavi Slums. Photo Credit: Blippar

Although inspired by the ever-popular Amar Chitra Katha, Devineni’s first comic book, which he created with collaboration with author Dan Goldman and author and playwright Vikas K. Menon. Released in 2012, Priya’s Shakti explores the trauma of rape survivors. Priya, the first hero of her kind, is different from what we would imagine as a traditional “superhero” that we find in popular comic book renditions such as The Avengers or Wonder Woman. Rather, she, as a rape survivor, inspires and spreads the message of acceptance, pride, and truly shows herself to be part of India’s social fabric. In the image above from Priya’s Shakti, we see her mission – to inspire other rape survivors to remove the veil of shame and raise her voice. What also makes Priya’s Shakti unique is that readers can experience and listen to the rape survivor narratives by downloading the Blippar app. Moreover, the app also makes the murals alive of Priya’s Shakti that are present in the Dharavi slums in Mumbai.

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Priya’s Shakti: Priya, the superheroine in Priya’s Shakti. Photo Credit: Ram Devineni

Priya’s Mirror: Where the mirror is the tool for empowerment: 

In the second installation of Priya’s Shakti comic book series, Priya’s Mirror, Devineni paired once again with Dan Goldman and this time with filmmaker, Paromita Vohra, who is also known for her previous films such as Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters, 2003).

 

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Priya’s Shakti: Artist Dan Goldman (third from left) and Devineni (second from right) with acid attack survivors including Lakshmi Agarwal (center).Photo Credit: Brown Girl Magazine

“Your face is your identity. It is what you present to the world and the world judges you by it. What happens when that identity Is destroyed? How do you find it again?” asks Vohra in The News Minute.

In this sequel, Priya’s Mirror shares an empowering and meaningful story of acid attack survivors using storytelling and partnership with The Last Mask campaign. The users can access virtual Snapchat filter masks to share solidarity with acid attack campaign victims and share these images on social media.

One of the heroes in the story of Priya’s Mirror is the inspiring story of Monica Singh. Singh’s empowering and powerful story embodies her resilience after surviving an acid attack but later becoming UN Women’s Global Youth Champion. She also is the founder of Mahender Singh Foundation, an organization which provides medical treatment, counselling, and even opportunities for acid attack survivors to shape their dreams even after the attack.

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Priya’s Shakti: Monica Singh founder of the Mahendra Singh Foundation stands with Priya in Priya’s Mirror. Photo Credit: Mahendra Singh Foundation

In the comic book, Priya uses the “mirror of love”, a spiritual relic that Priya receives from Hindu Goddess Parvati, that allows for the victims to look beyond their scars and see their true selves. The mirror helps them to find courage and self-confidence to step out into the world and lead a normal life again.

In an interview with Logical Indian, Singh shares, “When I see my ‘mirror of reality’, similar to Priya’s ‘mirror of love’, I see healed scars. The mirror shows you the reflection you want to see. I see potential and so much happiness on having the strength to change my life.” Indeed, this mirror functions as such a powerful force to empower the strength within. In a recent interview with me, she shared how she used to look at the mirror every day to gain strength. At a time when our childhoods are shaped with the mirror in fairy tales such as The Snow White and Snow Dwarfs where the mirror’s purpose was to show external beauty and jealousy.

Singh’s powerful story reframes the mirror as a tool of empowerment and the very truth that indeed our beauty lies within us and in our strengths to overcome trials and tribulations.

The comic book also shares the stories of other prominent acid attack survivors and activists including Lakshmi Agarwal, the founder of Stop Sale Acid Campaign. She started the #StopSaleAcid campaign, which received national attention. Agarwal received the 2014 International Women of Courage by US former first lady, Michelle Obama. Her story has also starred an upcoming film starring Deepika Padukone in Megha Gulzar’s upcoming film on Lakshmi’s biopic.

Priya’s Mirror also profiles acid attack survivors Sonia Choudhary and Natalia Ponce. Chaudhary, a resilient survivor and a beautician by profession, tries to help other acid attack victims at her salon and reclaim their sense of self.  Natalia, who is Colombian, actually sent out physical masks to politicians, celebrities, soap opera and sports stars in her country. All of them wore the masks to draw attention to the issue of acid attack. Her campaign garnered national media attention. Her campaign was an effort to change laws to punish the attackers in her country.

 

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Priya’s Shakti: From Left to Right: Sonia Chowdhury, Monica Singh, Lakshmi Agarwal, and Natalia Ponce. Photo Credit: Mashable

 

The newest kid on the block: Priya and The Lost Girls — a story of sex trafficking: 

Devineni has now teamed again with Dipti Mehta, Syd Fini, and Neda Kazemifar for the third installation in the Priya’s Shakti comic book series titled Priya and The Lost Girls. Releasing on November 20, 2019, Priya returns home to discover that her sister, Laxmi and other young girls from her village have disappeared. Exploring the theme of sex trafficking, Priya searches for them in an underground city of Rahu. As the story follows, Priya has to convince her sister and other women to leave Rahu and break the spell over them.

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Priya’s Shakti: The third instalment of the Priya’s Shakti comic book series: Priya And The Lost Girls. Photo Credit: Ram Devineni

The story is based on the life of Ruchira Gupta, her journey of making the documentary, The Selling of Innocents that led to the establishment of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an NGO that is working to end sex trafficking while working with the United Nations to establish policies that would help the poor.

In order to access the Priya’s Shakti comic book series, please visit the official website: https://www.priyashakti.com/.

Feature Photo Image Credit: Priya’s Shakti 

Nidhi Shrivastava

Nidhi Shrivastava

Author

Nidhi Shrivastava (@shnidhi) is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at Western University and works as an adjunct professor in at Sacred Heart University. She holds double masters in South Asian Studies and Women's Studies. Her research focuses on Hindi film cinema, censorship, the figure o...

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