ARMED only with her mirror of love, India’s superhero Priya is back with a new mission to help the victims of acid attacks. The comic book character has become a cultural phenomenon since her first appearance as a gang rape survivor who battles against sexual violence.

Drawing on Hindu myths, the first book created a sensation in India by using augmented reality to connect with the public, particularly teenage boys. Although a victim of gender-based violence, Priya, whose name means love, learns to find her inner strength with the help of a tiger called Sahas and the goddess Parvati.

Launched two years ago, after the gang-rape and subsequent death of an Indian medical student shocked the world, Priya’s Shakti (power) was hailed as an instrument of social change.

The follow-up, Priya’s Mirror, tells the story of acid victims from across the globe and will take centre stage at the New York Film Festival this weekend.

In the book, Priya joins forces with a group of acid attack survivors as they fight against the demon-king Ahankar and his tyrannical hold on them. It is available in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and Hindi and can be downloaded free from the website.


The aim of the comic is to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of women who are scarred, and often severely disabled, by acid attacks every year. Particularly common in South Asia, the attacks have historically been used in revenge by men against women who have spurned their advances.

However, the Stop Acid Campaign has seen an increase in recent years in attacks arising from family feuds and professional rivalry. While there has also been a rise in attacks by men on other men, it is still a highly gendered form of violence.

So many cases were reported in Bangladesh that harsher punishments for the perpetrators have been introduced along with strict controls on acid sales. As a result attacks have dropped by ten per cent. However, despite the fact that India’s Supreme Court recently brought in laws regulating acid sales, implementation across the country seems a distant dream.

Medical centres and hospitals are also ill-equipped to deal with burn victims, according to plastic surgeon Ashok Gupta.

“Special neutralising agents that can be applied immediately to limit the damage are scarcely stocked in most emergency rooms and ambulances,” he said. “It all ties into the absence of a basic national advisory body of experts to suggest guidelines for actions in case of an attack.”

The Indian Government has been ordered to pay compensation of £3,500 to each victim, but even if they do manage to break through the red tape to get the money, it is not enough to pay for the prohibitively expensive treatments with each one averaging between £2,300 and £4,600.


For Indian-American filmmaker Ram Devineni, education is the key to preventing the attacks.

“The reason I chose this subject is because there’s a clear correlation between rape and acid attacks,” he said. “The patriarchy, the social stigma and the attitude towards victims are the same in both. In fact, I think the lack of empathy for acid attack survivors is ten times more because their scars are visible. He believes that because the rather innocent-looking liquid is so cheap and easy to buy in India, it is a “very deceptive” and dangerous weapon.

The comic, he said, is a “perfect” way to educate young males on issues of gender violence – “to tell them how devastating this liquid weapon is”.

In the book, Priya – with the help of Sahas, which means courage – confronts Ahankar (meaning arrogance or ego), who has imprisoned women scarred by acid.

To free the victims, Priya asks them to gaze into the mirror of love, which reveals the beauty and strength concealed behind the terrible scars.

“The language of crime is always the same,” pointed out co-author Paromita Vohra. “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.”


The images in both books have been created by comic book designer Dan Goldman, whose work was used on hit show Breaking Bad.

“His design is based on deep respect and affection for Hindu mythology, and the power of the image. Each page is a stand-alone painting that can be mounted in a gallery,” Devineni said. “We are using existing constructs that are familiar to everyone in India, but presenting them in a fresh and original way.”

Priya’s Shakti made waves by using augmented reality app blippar so that readers could scan the book to see real-life stories, animation, and other interactive elements pop out of the pages. Special animation could also be viewed by scanning smartphones on murals painted on walls in Mumbai.

Pointing out that the comics were one of the first publications to use the technology in India, Goldman said: “There is a huge ‘WOW’ factor when readers first experience augmented reality. We believe its use will have a significant impact on readers in India who are not as familiar with this approach.”

Added Devineni: “I think the most important thing we want to emphasise with the comic book is that change is possible. Trying to create a cultural shift is incredibly difficult but not impossible. But what was clear to me from the massive protests that happened all over India after the horrible rape on the bus is that we want things to change in our country. There were so many teenagers and young adults at those protests, and they will be the future catalysts and leaders who will define India, which is a hopeful sign.”