Priya’s Shakti, an immensely popular comic book series featuring the first female Indian superhero and rape victim, uses the image of the ‘goddess astride a tiger’ to show a woman conquering her fears.
Ram Devineni, Paromita Vohra and Dan Goldman created the series in an attempt to raise awareness and initiate conversations about survivors of violent attacks.
Ram, who is based in New York, was in Delhi when the horrific gang rape of Nirbhaya took place on a bus in 2012. This incident received unprecedented media coverage due to the large number of protests happening in response to the government’s indifference towards gender based violence. Ram was involved in these protests too and, one day, he approached a police officer for his opinion on what happened in the bus. According to Ram,
“The officer’s response was ‘no good girl walks home at night,’ implying that she probably deserved it or at least provoked the attack. I knew then that the problem of sexual violence in India was not a legal issue; rather it was a cultural problem. A cultural shift had to happen, especially towards the role of women in modern society. Deep-rooted patriarchal views needed to be challenged.”
Around the same time, Ram started researching Hindu mythology. He observed that when disciples got into trouble, they would call upon their favourite gods for help. He says,
“I began formulating a new mythological tale where a mortal woman and rape survivor, named Priya, seeks help from Goddess Parvati, only after she had nowhere else to turn. Parvati manifests herself in Priya. Although Lord Shiva and other gods do get involved, eventually it is up to Priya to challenge people’s perceptions. I wanted to create a new Indian superhero, a rape survivor who can, through the power of persuasion, motivate people to change.”
He says, “What I discovered after talking with them is that they faced the same cultural stigmas and reactions from society that rape survivors had to endure. How society treated them intensified the problem and their recovery. How they were treated by their family, neighbours and society determined what they did next. Often, they were treated like the villains and the blame was put on them. Our comic book focuses on this and tries to change people’s perceptions of these heroic women.”
Ram recently flew to India to attend the Mumbai Comic-Con, where he and Dan Goldman, the artist, spoke about Priya’s Mirror. Since Priya’s Shakti is the second book in a five-part series, what can we expect from the next book? Ram says, “The next chapter, ‘Priya and the Lost Girls’, is about sex trafficking. We are working with Apne Aap Women Worldwide (a grassroots movement to end sex trafficking) to develop the story. Dan Goldman and I were in Kolkata a few days ago and interviewed exploited women in the red light areas. The story will be co-written with Emmy award winner and advocate and founder of Apne Aap – Ruchira Gupta. The research is funded by the Jerome Foundation and we hope to release it in a year.”