As with Gotham, which got the hero it deserved in the form of Batman, India has a new comic book superheroine Priya Shakti. Created in the wake of the brutal gang rape on a Delhi bus two years ago, the heroine Priya is a mortal woman who is raped herself, but who fights back against sexual violence with the help of the goddess Parvati – and and most iconic of Indian animals, the tiger.
Illustrated by Brooklyn-based artist Dan Goldman, the “augmented reality” comic tells the story of Priya, a young girl devoted to the goddess Parvati, who dreams of becoming a teacher. After her father to stop going to school, she is raped – and, then thrown out of the family home due to her parent’s shame at the event.
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, (Co creator Ram Devineni).
Like some of the great stories in the Ramayana, help comes to our heroine from one of the Gods themselves. Horrified to discover what women on earth go through, Parvati 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. “Take this mantra,” Parvati tells her. “Speak without shame and stand with me… Bring about the change you want to see.”
With Parvati’s support, Priya finds the shakti (the Hindi word for strength) to return home, now riding on the back of a tiger she befriended in the forest. She is, said Devineni, “a new hero for a modern India”.
Filmmaker Devineni told the BBC the idea for the comic came to him in December 2012 as India erupted in protest against the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a bus in Delhi:
I was in Delhi at the time when the protests broke out and I was involved in some of them,” he says. “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.
People anywhere in the world can download a free digital copy of the comic, Mr Devineni says. Viewers of the App will also see ads for the Circle of 6 App, an app to help friends stay together and keep safe when out of the house.
“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.”
In India, where one rape is reported every 16 minutes, the 2012 Delhi gang rape is seen as a game-changer – the brutality of the six men led to days of protests and forced the government to introduce tougher anti-rape laws, including the death penalty for particularly severe sex crimes.