About Polly Chester

Polly is a thinker, writer and social worker with passions for human rights, caring for the environment, social justice, social policy, epistemology, philosophy and psychology

Harnessing Priya’s Shakti as a force for positive change

The Indian comic Priya’s Shakti has kickstarted worldwide social action against rape culture and Polly Chester counts herself among the many women who now #standwithpriya.


When my media digest was recently inundated with articles about the ghastly misogyny that is very cornerstone of Grand Theft Auto 5 – the most current release of the shoot-em-up computer game that involves stealth, driving and racing in the criminal underworld – I kinda just looked the other way.

People have been vigorously petitioning to get GTA 5 off the shelves of Australian retailers and the campaign has largely been met with indifference.

I totally understand why people are pissed off about it; the “game” sounds pretty horrendous. To think that people are sick enough to create a computer game in which one of the objectives is to murder prostitutes is unfathomable.

To think that people would enjoy playing such a game is equally baffling.

Colin Campbell, the writer of one particular article on this subject, quite rightly stated that:

“…I know these aren’t real people. They are just cartoon characters. My point is not that the on-screen sex workers being murdered are real, nor that the game will prompt people to go out and murder prostitutes. My point is that this portrayal of them reinforces hard ideas about the worthlessness of prostitutes, in ways that are unique to this class of characters in the game.”

At the very best, you could label GTA 5 as “controversial”.

I’d simply call it “a massive waste of time”, which, incidentally, is the label I attach to any kind of computer game.

Whether it’s the gendered or non-gendered variety, violence seems to be the basis for a lot of computer games and that’s exactly what turns me off them. I instead stick to reading contemporary philosophy books and doing other nerdy things in my spare time.

Amongst his desecration of GTA 5, I couldn’t help but notice that the argument Campbell was making was inherently deficit-focused, by his painting of sex workers as victims, which in my opinion is generalist and argumentative, the wrong way to frame the argument and not an effective way to change the world.

Which is why I was so heartened to hear of India’s new superhero: Priya, the rape survivor in the comic Priya’s Shakti.

Priya’s Shakti features a superhero-heroine who fights gender-based sexual violence around the world. The comic was inspired by the death of a young Indian woman in Delhi, who was raped and savagely beaten by six men, before being thrown in front of a bus. At the time the attack happened, she was on her way home from the cinema with a friend.

The youngest of the six men who committed this heinous attack was pardoned from the maximum penalty for this offence, due to being considered a juvenile in the eyes of the law. This is clearly a massive obstruction of justice, a direct consequence of outdated laws and a multi-level, patriarchal Government response.

What I love about Priya, the rape survivor, and why I believe that it is such an effective response to men’s violence against women, is that it is strengths-focused. It gives survivors hope, and provides a platform for solidarity.

Priya’s Shakti invites community engagement and participation and worldwide social action against rape culture, by inviting readers to take photos of themselves with the superhero and post them on their favourite social media channels with the hashtag #standwithpriya.

Priya’s Shakti can be downloaded for free.

Even the words on the front page of the website are far more powerful than any petition could be:

Comic books can move teenagers to action and help them creatively inspire and move their community. The first innovative Mozilla Maker Party and workshop focused on the problem of sexual violence was held in Dharavi, Mumbai at the Colour Box run by Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA). Local teenagers created their own comic book art and then converted them into animated GIF films and augmented reality panels.”

Social action that targets men’s violence against women is of course, important on every level, and I in no way mean to belittle the importance of the petition campaign against GTA 5.

What I am saying is that it’s important to note the new precedent that Priya’s Shakti has set within these realms.

Hopefully Priya’s Shakti will encourage other campaigners to channel their moral outrage into intelligent, peaceful resistance in similar ways, or better yet, join the campaign and pit the computer game villains against the comic book heroes.

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