Donning a pink Kurta and a brown Salwar along with a green Dupatta, Priya – India’s first female comic superhero, dives into a new adventure in the latest series titled Priya and The Lost Girls. In the new comic book, Priya, who is a rape survivor, returns home on her flying tiger, Sahas, and discovers that all the young women of her village including her sister, Laxmi have disappeared. She learns that they have been taken to an underground brothel city called Rahu ruled by a demon who gets his power through fear and entrapment of women.
The comic takes us through a journey where Priya eventually rescues morbidly suppressed women, but the story doesn’t end there. She also empowers them by standing with them when the whole village disowns them for being forced into sex work. Priya questions the various notions of patriarchy embedded not just in men but in women too who propagate it by shaming other women. The comic book is an important piece to educate one about how patriarchy works but also to know how we can demolish it.
“When a trafficked girl is rescued her big fear is that her family will not accept her, no one will marry her, she is tarnished and is ashamed of herself. And it was very important for me to shed light on this issue, because many times trafficked survivors succumb to their fate because they think there is no hope or place for them in the society anymore,” says Deepti Mehta, writer of the comic book to SheThePeople.TV.
Behind Priya and The Lost Girls
It’s creator, Ram Devineni tells us about the comic book, which is in its third edition after the one where Priya takes revenge against her rapists titled Priya’s Shakti in 2014 followed by Priya’s Mirror where she fights against the evil of acid attack released in 2016. Talking about setting the story around the subject of sex trafficking for Priya and the Lost Girls, Devineni says, “I think in every village, city and town there are missing girls and women. Although they are missing, everyone knows what has happened to them. This problem is so common, that you can go to villages in Nepal and see there are no young women because they have been trafficked to Sonagachi or Delhi to work in the brothels.”
To research about human trafficking he visited the brothels of Sonagachi in Kolkata in 2017 along with the members of Apne Aap Women Worldwide – an NGO that’s been working for the welfare of sex workers for years now. “I met a dozen women who told me their stories. Many of the women had children living with them in very cramped and dingy rooms. Often a room was shared by multiple women with their children. And the room was also where they saw their clients. You can only imagine the psychological effect this had on their children? It was very disheartening,” he recollects.
Defining Priya’s character
As Priya’s simplistic yet vivacious personality is the defining factor in the comic, Devineni feels that he wanted to show her in a non-superpowerful way because he believes that power exists within all of us. He says, “Priya is not your typical “superhero” and her strength is her power of persuasion and the power of an idea. Although she rides a tiger, she has no powers. An idea is much more powerful than Superman’s strength or Wonder-woman’s magic lasso. She is alike everyone — the power exists in us all, but is hidden in our fears.”
Writing about sex trafficking for comic book
Devineni was joined by Mehta, an Indian-American actress and playwright who wrote the script of the comic book. She researched in the red-light districts of Mumbai and in the USA. Since she had already worked on the issue of human trafficking in the streets of Mumbai for her award-winning one-woman show, Honour, she felt more at ease writing for the comic book. In fact, she felt excited to write it for the comic book format because she believes “now we can spread awareness among the younger demographic where it is most needed.”
On asking what differentiates sex workers of Mumbai from those abroad, she says, “I have never been to brothels in the States so I would not be able to compare the two. I have however spoken to women who work in the sex industry in both places. It is hard to pinpoint stark differences but the basis of their choice was always the fact that they needed to find a way to survive.”
The ferocious artwork of the comic book has been done by Syd Fini and Neda Kazemifar, who are originally from Tehran. Now based in New York City, the married couple talked about their work on the project and said, “We pick our pencils and brushed and our instruments to reflect what is happening around us an artistic way. I (Fini) tried so hard to hold a mirror to our society in an indirect way. Using cinematic language to tell a story in a cohesive way. Hoping whoever picks up the book and read it can see how it actually looks from a different point of view, the way we treat women…”
Priya questions the various notions of patriarchy embedded not just in men but in women too who propagate it by shaming other women. The comic book is an important piece to educate one about how patriarchy works but also on how we can demolish it.
The comic book series was honoured by UN Women as a “gender equality champion” and had over 500,000 downloads and hundreds of news stories written about it reaching millions of readers worldwide. Additionally, several large colourful augmented reality murals from the comic book were painted on walls throughout Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi.
Picture credit- Ram Devineni