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India’s New Comic Book Superhero is a Rape Survivor

Priya’s Shakti tells the story of a rape survivor and her Hindu Goddess sidekick exacting justice on rapists.

In 2012, a 23-year old woman named Jyoti Singh Pandey was on a private bus in South Delhi when she was brutally beaten and gang-raped while the bus driver and at six other riders stood by without intervening. She died more than a week later from her injuries. The violent incident sparked nation-wide protests and garnered worldwide attention. Indian-American filmmaker Ram Devineni was in Delhi when the demonstrations overtook the streets of India and that’s when he got the idea for Priya’s Shakti. The forthcoming graphic novel is about a rape survivor named Priya who partners up with the Hindu Goddess Parvati to fight sexual violence in India.

"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,’” Devineni told the BBC. "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."

Devineni uses symbols and narratives from Hindu mythology to tell the story. In the novel, Priya tells her parents about her rape and they throw her out of the house. The Goddess Parvati comes down to Earth to exact justice for Priya and help her confront her rapist. The plot culminates in a grand battle in Heaven and on Earth. The first issue of the novel, which will be released later this month, will be available for free to download. It debuts in print at ComicCon Mumbai in both English and Hindi.

A number of news stories have highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence in India—just this week, New Delhi made headlines when it banned the rideshare service Uber after one of its drivers was accused of raping a 25-year old woman. In the past few weeks, a video of two Indian women fighting off sexual harassers on a public bus went viral. But sexual violence is a widespread menace for women all around the world, who face skepticism, victim-blaming, and denial of justice when they go public with their stories of rape and sexual assault.

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