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If you cannot say it, then draw it: comic books against gender-based violence in India

Ram Devineni's picture
(The author is a co-creator of the comic book “Priya’s Shakti”, a multimedia project that helps illuminate attitudes toward gender-based violence (GBV) through the Hindu mythological canon.)
 
Tushar Kamble with the comic book panel he drew about one of his teachers.

Before creating the comic book “Priya’s Shakti”  we spoke with several rape survivors and their accounts were critical in developing our story. What they told us had a profound impact on everyone involved. We knew we had to create a compelling and inspiring character – Priya, who is a survivor of rape and the hero of our comic book.
 
While finishing the comic book, we realized that the process of drawing Priya made us more sensitive and aware of the struggles of the real-life women we interviewed and who influenced our character. We wanted to share the power of storytelling and drawing with teenagers in India and elsewhere.
 
We observed that the internet and watching TV is a very passive endeavor and once it is over, the viewer is disconnected from what they experienced. But, drawing and especially telling the stories of survivors of gender-based violence was a very active process and had a lasting effect on the people who were involved. The more the person was engaged with the subject – the deeper their empathy was with them.

Our first comic book for social change workshop was held in Dharavi, Mumbai in September 2014 at the Colour Box run by Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA). Several dozen teenagers from the largest “slum” in Asia participated in the four- day workshop run by renowned comic book artist Chaitanya Modak.
 
The sessions began with a discussion of the history of comic books, different styles and techniques for drawing comic books, and how comics have addressed social issues.  Dr. Nayreen Daruwalla and staff from SNEHA lead discussions with the students on gender-based violence issues. The students then went back to their communities and spoke with neighbors and relatives who have experienced gender-based violence ranging from domestic abuse to rape.
 
Click to read the whole comic
Afterwards, the students scripted their stories, created characters, designed the structure, and then drew the comics on panels. Then the comics were colored and assembled before scanning them into the computer to be turned into animated GIFs. Afterwards, the comics were printed and distributed to the teen participants’ friends, family, and community.
 
Talking with the teenagers, it was clear to us that the students were deeply moved by the experience. Some of them have taken other comic book creation workshops focused on environmental safety, but this was the first time they dealt with a powerful and personal social issue. Comic books can move teenagers to action and help them creatively inspire and move their community.
 
We ran a similar workshop in New Delhi with our NGO partner, Apne Aap, and held a lab at the Design High School in New York City to develop the model and curriculum for organizers and teachers to use to run their own workshops in their communities. The lab was co-organized with City Lore and funded by the New York Community Trust. The workshops are easy to organize and the only cost is the price of pencils and papers.
 
One of the inspiring comic book panels created during the workshop in Mumbai was by Tushar Kamble. He recounted a personal story about his teacher, and how the entire class came together to support her in a moment of crisis. The panel was originally drawn in Hindi, but we translated it to English, see it on the right.

  
 

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