COVID-19 has dominated the world news over the last year as well as almost every other aspect of peoples lives. India is no exception: with 9.4 million positive cases and 137,000 deaths, the country has the second highest number of cases globally and, although a strict lockdown was imposed on 21st March, the virus continues to sweep through the country.
Amid these dark times however, India’s first female comic superhero Priya is back to tackle COVID-19 and the disinformation surrounding it. This new and upcoming series is the fourth edition of the pioneering comic book series, ‘Priya’s Mask’ and sees her join forces with comic crusader Jiya, ‘the Burka Avenger’, who is a popular cartoon character from a show in Pakistan.
The spreading of false information throughout India has been a major obstacle to overcome for the country during the course of the pandemic. Millions of individuals with smartphones have received hundreds of messages, since the pandemic began about sponsored cures, lockdown rumours and conspiracies about the origins of the virus. This has created problems of people flouting rules in regard to wearing a mask as well as not maintaining social distancing.
UN women have hailed the series a ‘gender equality champion’ and, the new comic book cartoon features a short film which includes the voices of feminist leaders from both the US and India including Vidya Balan, Rosanna Arquette, Mrunal Thakur and Sairah Kabir.
The creator of the ‘modern day feminist superhero’ Ram Deveni has already produced stories of the character as a survivor of a gang rape who has also campaigned against rape, acid attack and sex trafficking. So, as the stories are aimed at young people, not only do they address current world issues but also highlight the injustices faced by women in society both in India and around the world and are a simple and enticing way of making individuals aware of such happenings.
Regarding the most recent edition to the series, Delhi based writer and theatre actress Shubhra Prakash, who wrote the script for Priyas mask say she was inspired by her own experiences with COVID-19. ‘During the early weeks of lockdown, we were not allowed to leave home at all. So, I spent a lot of time in my balcony. My access to the world was quite restricted. We were all isolated and it was difficult for everyone.’ She then went on to add that: ‘we wanted people to understand that these are extraordinary times…there was a lot of stigma surrounding the illness and we were trying to say that people need to be open minded. What is keeping the world moving during the pandemic? The sacrifices made by the frontline workers, who go to work to keep us safe.’
Ram Deveni, who lives in the US, says Priyas Mask has relevance beyond India and has even been described by the US Embassy’s North India Office as ‘the latest example of the United States and India working together to confront global health changes, drawing on the deep talents of both our peoples.’
Coronavirus has been with us for almost a year and many parts of the world are still adapting to the ‘new normal’. In both Delhi and the US infection rates continue to soar with up to 1.5 million deaths being recorded. What’s more, the World Health Organisation and many other governments are still attempting to deal with people refusing to wear masks and maintaining social distancing – the fine for not wearing a mask in public in Delhi has recently been increased to 2000 rupees.
So, at a time when the new comic book edition seems most relevant, this new imaginative portrayal of a prevalent global issue sheds some hope on some of the light that can come out of these dark times.
Priya’s Mask will be released worldwide, on multiple platforms on 2nd December.