By Arun Kumar
An Indian-American filmmaker and creator of ‘Priya’s Shakti’, a free-to-download comic book that tells the story of an Indian gang-rape victim-turned-superhero, was not surprised by a convicted rapist’s views on rape.
Last September, while conducting research for his comic, he met many men in Delhi who shared convicted rapist Mukesh Singh’s opinions expressed in a BBC documentary, Ram Devineni told NBC News.
India has banned the British filmmaker Leslee Udwin’s documentary – “India’s Daughter” – on the December 16, 2012, fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman who has come to be known as Nirbhaya or the Fearless, following an uproar over Mukesh Singh’s comments.
Despite the ban, BBC released ahead of schedule the documentary, in which Mukesh Singh blames the victim for her fate. It immediately went viral on YouTube.
“Priya is influenced by Nirbhaya. She is the reason why I wrote this comic book,” Devineni told NBC News. “The reason I created the videos is to put a real face and voices to the comic book and Priya.”
“Comic books have a tendency to remove the reader from reality, but by adding the videos into the comic book I was able to show that there is a real human face and story behind the characters,” he was quoted as saying.
NBC News cited a 2012 survey by Hindustan Times, saying 92 out of 100 Delhi men, aged 18-25, said some or all of their friends have made passes at women in public places, while more than 78 percent of the women surveyed had been sexually harassed.
NBC News said the Priya’s Shakti team has released footage from their man-on-street interviews with young men in Delhi as well as a gang rape survivor to it.
In the first video, the Priya’s Shakti team speaks to young working class men between the ages of 21-25 at a street market in south Delhi.
One of the men explains that he thinks rape is 50 percent the man’s fault, 50 percent the woman’s fault. A few others say provocative clothing invites rape and harassment.
“I never got the impression that they were violent or would misbehave in anyway,” said Devineni.
“But they all shared the same patriarchal views towards women. They believed that women should be conservative and only ‘bad’ girls get raped.”
Devineni told NBC News that he also encountered men who defended female rape victims.
“I don’t want to paint a picture that all Delhi men are like this. But, of course, it’s still scary to think that half the men feel that a woman is equally at fault.”
In this second video, the Priya’s Shakti team speaks to 19-year-old Jyoti (a pseudonym used to protect her identity) who was gang-raped by a group of young local men, three years ago, in a village on the outskirts of Haryana.
Despite facing grave threats, she took legal action against her attackers and was able to get them sentenced.
“Jyoti was completely open and honest with us because she felt her story would help others,” Devineni was quoted as saying.
“I was very inspired by her motivations and determination. What happened to her has become her life’s mission.”
Jyoti is currently pursuing a degree in social work and volunteers with a local voluntary group in Haryana which advices and counsels rape survivors.
But her struggle is far from over. She’s received multiple death threats and is under constant police protection, NBC News said.
“Her story and the stories of other rape survivors directly influenced in the creation of my character in the comic book. Priya is a compilation of them,” said Devineni.