Female comic superhero fights India’s sex traffickers, challenges stigma

Comic book series Priya’s Shakti features the first female Indian superhero who fight sex crimes flying around India on a tiger. Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A female superhero will use her powers to fight sex crimes in India and the stigma that trafficking survivors face, in the third instalment of a comic series due to be released this week.

Priya, a rape survivor-turned superhero who flies around on a tiger, fought her abusers and helped acid attack victims in the last two editions of the “Priya’s Shakti” comic.

“Comics are hugely popular with teenagers and young adults … we wanted to reach teenagers because they are learning about sexuality, gender-roles and sexual violence,” said series creator and filmmaker Ram Devineni.

“More importantly, we have given voices and put attention on survivors of gender-based violence,” Devineni told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

Thousands of people across India – largely poor, rural women and children – are lured to cities each year by traffickers who promise good jobs, but sell them into modern day slavery.

India recorded around 3,000 human trafficking cases in 2017, according to recently released crime data, which anti-trafficking campaigners said masked the true scale of the crime.

In the new comic, which can be downloaded for free from Tuesday, Priya rescues sex trafficking victims and challenges the communities that refuse to accept them on their return home.

“Priya’s Shakti” (Priya’s Strength) was the first Indian comic book of its kind when first released in 2014, using augmented reality to tell the story of a young, rural woman who is gang-raped and then shamed by her family and community.

In her latest comic titled “Priya and the Lost Girls”, she returns to her village where she finds all the women, including her sister, missing. She then traces them to a brothel owned by a demon who she must fight to rescue the women.

Although set in India, the story has global resonance, the creators said.

“People in first world countries think of sex trafficking as a third world problem. What they don’t realize is, it happens in their own backyards. It is a global industry making a lot of money,” the comic book’s writer Dipti Mehta said.

The story was based on research the creators conducted of brothels in red-light districts of Kolkata and Mumbai.

“I think as artists and creators it is our social responsibility to raise awareness and give voice to those who need it the most,” Mehta said.

The “Priya’s Shakti” series has been downloaded more than 500,000 times and read by about 26 million people worldwide, Devineni said.

Augmented reality is being used as a sex education tool in Myanmar, while Indonesian storytellers are spreading a ‘mighty girls’ message through a series of illustrated e-books to fight male dominance.



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