I’ve written numerous times about India’s rape problem (here, here, here). Ever since the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in December 2012, numerous stories of rape and mistreatment of women have made it into the global media. The spotlight has been turned on India and it is still shining, slowly burning through the centuries-old justifications for rape. It was while protesting in New Delhi after Pandey’s death that Indian-American filmmaker Ram Devineni came up with the idea for a comic book that sheds even more light on this issue. He quotes:
“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.”
How can women feel safe in a society in which the police and lawmakers agree with the rapists? I don’t know how many times it needs to be said that what a woman wears or where she goes does not invite anyone to rape her. It is especially interesting to me that her clothing choices would determine this fate, when in Hinduism (the major religion in India), material belongings and even the human body itself are seen as unimportant. These are shed once a person dies and the soul is what lives on, passing from life to life. If this is truly believed, then why should what a woman wears matter so much? It doesn’t — these are merely terrible excuses for allowing terrible acts of violence against half of the world’s population, and it needs to stop. Efforts like Devineni’s comic book “Priya’s Shakti” are leading the way in changing these attitudes about women.
It was chillingly evident from the documentary India’s Daughter that so many citizens, including men and women, believe that rape is a woman’s fault and a man’s right. It is somehow viewed an acceptable form of punishment, invited by women who are seen as acting outside the expected social and cultural norms, whether that be through wearing jeans, going out after dark, or even while going out into the fields to relieve themselves in impoverished rural areas where there are no toilets (another issue altogether).
“Priya’s Shakti” (shakti meaning strength or power) follows an unlikely heroine — an Indian woman who has been raped. After being shunned by her family and turned away by law enforcement, she seeks the help of the Hindu god and goddess Shiva and Parvati. Importantly in such a religious society as India, this portrays that a women is not ignored by God even when she is ignored by all of humanity. With Shiva and Parvati’s aid, Priya conquers evil and the wrongdoers are punished.
This is a fantastically creative way to promote awareness of women’s and girls’ rights, not only in India but worldwide. I look forward to reading it in full and encourage everyone to read and share it, especially younger boys and girls who have a lot of conflicting information coming their way about such issues.
Download the comic for free here!