Sunday November 27, 2016

The acid attack survivor who became a comic book superhero

Monica Singh refuses to let an acid attack define her 1:17

Listen 27:18

"Suddenly, the face is completely gone. You're not even looking human." - Monica Singh

Imagine that in a single moment your face was gone, destroyed by an acid attack.

That's the fate of hundreds of girls and women around the world each year, according to the Acid Surivors Trust International (ASTI)

And it's the focus of a new comic book, Priya's Mirror -- a sequel to the enormously successful graphic novel Priya's Shakti. 

Priya's Mirror follows its hero, Priya, as she tries to save a group of acid attack survivors from a monster who believes he's protecting the women by keeping them locked in his lair. 


Click the image below to read the comic book Priya's Mirror




The story was written by filmmaker Ram Devineni and drawn from interviews Devineni conducted with real-life survivors. Those women told Devineni that after the attacks, they were cut off from the world, just like the characters in the comic. Instead of being trapped by a monster, however, the real-world women were imprisoned by physical and emotional pain and the crushing stigma associated with being an acid-attack survivor.

Monica Singh is one of the women whose personal story became the basis for Priya's Mirror. It happened in 2005, when Singh was eighteen years old and living in India. She was driving in her hometown of Lucknow when several men attacked, throwing acid on her face and body.

Singh says the attackers were hired by a man who wanted to punish her for refusing his marriage proposal. She has since undergone 46 reconstructive surgeries and has scarring on 95 percent of her body.

Monica Singh

Monica Singh underwent 46 reconstructive surgeries after the acid attack (c/o Monica Singh)

Singh says her attacker's main goal was to prevent her from living the life she wants. She's determined to prevent his wish from coming true. That's why she now lives in New York City and is pursuing her dream of being a fashion designer. "The biggest revenge -- to this guy -- is to live the way you wanted and to keep doing whatever you always wanted."

Survivors of acid attacks are often regarded as victims - with good reason. Their lives are forever changed. But Monica Singh argues the superhero motif is a better fit.

"Acid attack victims are strong. They were attacked because they had the courage to say no."
Priya's Mirror heroes

Acid attack survivors (left to right) Soniya Choudhary, Monica Singh, Laxmi Saa, and and Natalia Ponce de Leon. (Illustrator: Dan Goldman))

Singh runs the Mahendra Singh Foundation which aims to support victims of gender-based violence. She says she participated in Priya's Mirror because raising awareness of the issue of acid attacks is crucial. 

Devineni, the comic's creator, says it's imperative that as many men read Priya's Mirror as possible. "What I want especially young boys and men to take away from this is to really empathize and to understand this very horrible thing that's out there called hyper-masculinity, which forces men to treat women horribly."

The first comic in the the series, Priya's Shakti, focussed on the issue of rape. It has reached an audience of over 20-million people worldwide. Devineni says the hero, Priya, is now a famous character in India and is quickly becoming an international symbol in the fight against gender-based violence.

Priya's Shakti was written by Ram Devineni and Lina Srivastava. Priya's Mirror was written by Ram Devineni and Paromita Vohra. The artwork was done by illustrator Dan Goldman.