Goddesses to the Rescue! a Critical Analysis of Priya’s Shakti, an Anti-Rape Comic Book

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Ayesha VEMURI, McGill University, Canada
Sailaja KRISHNAMURTI, Saint Mary's University, Canada
This presentation examines a comic book called Priya’s Shakti (2013), which tells the story of a victim of gangrape who becomes an unlikely “superhero” in a crusade to end sexual violence. The comic was a response to the horrific, widely mediatized gangrape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi in 2012 (the Nirbhaya case). Following this case, several media and public education campaigns were created to address gender-based violence in India (Dutta and Sircar 2013; Kotiswaran 2013). Priya’s Shakti was created by an Indian-American filmmaker, Ram Devineni, and went viral in Indian and American news media. The comic integrates “augmented reality” technology and embeds the stories of real-life survivors, and was touted as a unique and powerful means of drawing attention to the problem of sexual violence. By positioning a rape victim from rural India as a protagonist with power, it was widely applauded as a means of changing the discourse surrounding victim-survivors of sexual violence (Mullin 2015; Pandey 2014).

However, as we argue, the comic does not actually center the protagonist Priya’s experience. Instead, drawing upon paternalist themes and imagery in Hindu mythology and in the action-driven comic book genre (Chandra 2008; Scott 2010) the narrative undermines Priya’s agency by representing her ‘superpowers’ as mediated by the gods. This raises questions about what model of social change the comic’s creators envision, and about the underlying message of the comic as a whole to its readers. Reading Priya’s Shakti through an analysis of the transnational discourses about religion, popular culture, and sexual violence that surround it, we discuss the ways in which this comic actually reiterates rather than opposes tropes about the passivity of Indian women and the dangers of brown men, and plays into nationalist claims about Hinduism’s dominance in India.