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The next edition of Priya’s Shakti features acid attack survivors

Priya’s Mirror follows the hugely successful Priya’s Shakti, which was the first Indian comic book to use sexual violence as a catalyst of change

brunch Updated: Oct 12, 2016 21:34 IST
Priya’s Mirror sees the protagonist joining forces with acid attack survivors to fight the demon-king Ahankar
Priya’s Mirror sees the protagonist joining forces with acid attack survivors to fight the demon-king Ahankar( )

Among the bevy of models taking to the ramp at New York Fashion Week last month was an unfamiliar face – scarred but courageous. Reshma Quereshi, an Indian acid attack survivor, walked for designers Archana Kochhar and later, Vaishali Shadangule at one of the most prominent fashion events in the world. The move was a first, and widely applauded, for it was a fitting way to challenge existing perceptions of beauty.

Acid attack survivors across the world lead stigmatized lives – their disfigured faces defining their fate. When New York-based filmmaker Ram Devineni was in Delhi last December, he met Laxmi Saa and Sonia Choudhary, two survivors, at the Stop Acid Attacks office. “I discovered that they faced the same cultural stigmas and reactions that rape survivors have to endure. How society treated them intensified the problem, their recovery, and also determined what they did next,” he says.

The indomitable spirit and stories of Laxmi, Sonia, and other survivors like Colombian Natalia Ponce de Leon , now finds their way into Priya’s Mirror, the second edition of the popular Priya’s Shakti comic book series that became a global sensation two years ago. The book, created by Devineni and featuring illustrations by Dan Goldman, chronicled the story of Priya, a rape survivor-turned-superhero who’s chosen by Goddess Parvati to address issues of gender violence and equality. It went on to have over five lakh downloads in multiple languages like English, Hindi, Spanish, and Italian and was honoured by UN Women as a ‘gender equality champion’. “We wanted to continue Priya’s movement, and focusing on acid attacks allowed her story and character to evolve. The correlations were too obvious and imperative,” adds Devineni.

The book cover

This edition sees Priya joining forces with a group of acid attack survivors to fight the evil king Ahankar. While the women initially believe that they are resigned to their fate, living under the Ahankar’s tyrannical hold in a castle hidden from the world, Priya helps them realise their own courage by showing them the mirror of love. According to documentary filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra, who co-wrote the story, the mirror of love is symbolic of a loving gaze.

“If you look at the world in terms of hate and hostility, you will find it impossible to make a change. The mirror asks the women, is your identity erased because you don’t have a face? Or are you more than the face that you have? When they look in the mirror of love, they see who they are with different eyes. They see their hopes and dreams before their attacks. And this helps them to have courage to move forward and change their life,” she says.

The book also discusses the narrative of victim-blaming and society-induced stigma

Vohra adds that even Ahankar is a also victim of masculinity. Before he becomes the acid-spewing Ahankar, he’s just a young man in love with a woman, whose brothers take objection and force acid down his throat. “The acid is symbolic of toxic masculinity. It can corrode you from the inside, as well as corrode other people from the outside. So it’s not as if Ahankar is not as corroded by that acid as the people whom he is harming. So he tries to keep women trapped in that negative space.”

Like the previous edition, Priya’s Mirror will also use augmented reality (AR) to allow readers to have a more empathetic, immersive experience of the subject. By scanning the pages of the comic book with the free Blippar app, they can unlock other real life stories and elements like #TheLastMask, a transparent mask-like filter that can be shared on social media to show their solidarity. “The goal is to reach teenagers, when they are learning about relationships and developing opinions. These things become powerful tools to talk about gender issues,” says Devineni. Vohra adds that having a comic book format, coupled with cutting-edge technology, ensures that the message reaches an overwhelming number of men too.

Priya’s Mirror was launched at the New York Film Festival two weeks ago, with an AR exhibition at Lincoln Centre. Now, the team is all set to unveil a series of initiatives in India – they’ll be visiting the Sheroes café, run by acid attack survivors, in Agra as well as creating an AR mural at the St + art festival in Bangalore next week. Devineni and Goldman will also be present at Mumbai Comic Con on October 22 and 23. “We’re also going to start working on the next chapter, Priya and The Last Girls, on sex trafficking. We’ll be visiting Kolkata to interview exploited women in the red-light areas,” says Devineni.

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First Published: Oct 12, 2016 21:34 IST

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