SHE looked herself in the mirror and screamed in horror. Scarred and swollen to twice its size, her face bore no resemblance to the girl whose face carried a perpetual smile just a few months ago. This is the poignant story of Monica Singh that will evoke anguish and anger at the same time. An agitated, rebuffed man poured acid on her as a revenge for her rejection of his marriage proposal. It was around half past four on a November evening when Monica’s life turned upside down. The psychopath entered her house and before she could react, he threw a pale yellow liquid all over her. The liquid ate through her skin and facial tissue, half of her body was burned, completely altering her appearance forever.
Monica is not alone. There are hundreds like her who have been targeted when they refused the advances of men. More than a decade after acid attack on Singh, her story and that of several other acid attack survivors has inspired a comic book titled Priya’s Mirror. For the character of Priya, one of the book’s main protagonists, Singh was the main inspiration. “I used mirror as a kind of therapy to overcome the trauma and accept the reality, even if it is atrocious,” says Singh. Monica’s mirror brought her closer to her own self.
In the comic book, Priya (which means ‘beloved’) rides on the back of her ferocious tiger Sahas (or ‘courage’ and metaphorically symbolises Goddess Durga) into “The Castle”. There, she confronts the villainous Ahankar (Ego or Arrogance), a demon disguised as a benevolent man, and liberates the acid attack victims who are trapped there. In her endeavour, Priya is joined by a group of acid attack survivors to fight against the demon king ahankar.
The comic book was created by producer Ram Devineni and artist Dan Goldman to highlight the stigma and dangers around gender violence. It uses augmented reality and image recognition technologies to bring its characters to life. The 36-page comic was unveiled at the New York Film Festival’s Lincoln Center. It is available in five languages - English, Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, and can be downloaded free from their website. Priya’s Mirror is the second in a five-book series; the next comic will focus on sex trafficking.
It was during his visit to the see Michelangelo’s masterpiece murals on the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel that Ram got the idea of presenting comic books in an illustrative way. He narrates his experience, “Each fresco panel told a distinct story. I wanted to go deeper into each painting but was limited by the limits of my senses. That’s when the idea of using augmented reality came to me.” Ram wanted to create interactive component in the comic book. Priya series uses modern technology thereby creating an enthralling experience for readers.
Augmented reality is a significant part of the comic book, and by scanning the comic book with the augmented reality app Blippar, one can view animation, real-life stories, and other interactive elements too. This makes the readers’ experience more holistic and pushes them to see the whole issue from a different angle altogether.
In the book Priya says: “Why should we hide our wounds? And why should we hide because of our wounds, sisters? Someone reduced you to only your face. But you are other things too. Look into this mirror and you will see.”
Paromita Vohra, who co-authored Priya’s Mirror with Devineni, says: “Priya’s weapon is rather unusual. Priya’s mirror is an allegory for the “mirror of love”. Priya encourages the women to peep into it and look beyond their scars, to see what they were originally, like singers, carpenters and painters.”
Dan Goldman, the artist, says he looked at pictures of survivors from across the globe before he began drawing and similarities with some real-life women made his work vibrant and real.
The first Priya book was inspired by the murderous gang rape of a 23-year-old student in a bus in the capital, Delhi, in December 2012. After a massive global outrage, India fastened its laws dealing with gender crimes, including the introduction of death penalty. However, punishment is not a panacea: the need is to change the attitudes, as the roots of gender violence goes deep down patriarchal gender identities.
“The language of crime is always the same. You read about the victim and the perpetrator, but we need to think of these people as more than victims, their indomitable characters, their courage, their beauty and struggle to remake their lives. And we need a fresh look at the villain since he is also a product of patriarchy,” opines Vohra.
Teenage boys are one of the main target audiences of this comic book. Existing patriarchal mindset has taught them that a man’s will is superior to a woman’s. When a woman spurns a man, his ego is hurt and when that ego is put through the acid of patriarchal thinking, it corrodes society. In a way the villain is a victim too. The need of the hour is to start looking at villains and victims differently.
When the real life issues are as bleak as rape and acid attacks, perhaps a comic book character fighting back is an effective way of delivering a message through technology, with real stories to bring massive change. As a society, we need to change the patriarchal prism through which we look first, at women, and then the rape survivor or the acid attack survivor. They are not really the ‘victims’. They are the real heroes of truth and activism.