Priya, India’s female comic book hero who rides a ferocious tiger, is starring in a new graphic novel.
The fearless character is a gang-rape survivor who previously campaigned against rape and acid attack, and this time she is fighting against sex trafficking of vulnerable women and girls.
In the first comic, Priya Shakti challenges the stigma surrounding rape, particularly as the comic marked 2 years after a terrible gang rape attack on a young woman in India, while in Priya’s Mirror, the second comic, she returns to fight acid attacks- a messed up form of ‘justice’.
In the latest edition – Priya and the Lost Girls – Priya tries to rescue her own sister from a sex-trafficker named Rahu, an evil demon who runs an underworld brothel where he has taken many women and girls.
The comic delivers a powerful feminist statement, with influences by ancient Indian mythology and imaginative characters brought together by actor and comic book scriptwriter Dipti Mehta.
Lost Girls begins with the protagonist returning home to find no girls living in her village, taken by the demon Rahu. Priya flies on her tiger, Sahas (Hindi for courage), to confront Rahu in his world: a city ruled by greed, jealousy, and male lust, where women exist only as men’s playthings, and those who resist will suffer petrification.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t end at the women’s rescue. As is true outside of the comic book world, families of trafficked girls refuse to take them back. The survivors are ridiculed, judged harshly for their abuse, and treated like “lepers”.
Priya and the other girls stand up to confront the patriarchal judgements says the author: “just as women have broken their silence to talk about MeTo. I was very clear from the start that Lost Girls can’t be just another comic book where good guy wins and evil dies, it had to be much more than that.”
Ram Devineni, the Indian-American creator of the comic series, told the BBC that he had decided to focus on sex trafficking in this edition after visiting India’s ;argest red light district where he met several female sex workers.
“Half of them told me they had been tricked into coming there and, once there, they were forced into the sex trade. The other half said they’d agreed to do this for a living because they were dirt poor and they had no alternative. Often there were two to three women sharing a small dingy room, many of them had young children who lived with them, and some of them said their children slept in the same bed where they serviced clients. I found that really disheartening.”