Bhagirath Iyer | SIPA, Urban and Social Policy, Class of 2018
Monica was still in her teens and was all-set to study fashion design in India, when her dream of becoming a fashion designer was cut short. She was attacked with acid by a man who wanted to marry her. He wanted revenge because she chose education and not him.
Today, 11 years and 46 surgeries later, Monica is re-living her dream. Last year, she graduated from Parsons School of Design, New York and is now readying herself for a career in fashion design.
But, Monica has not forgotten her struggle and trauma as an acid attack survivor, and it is her struggle that motivated her to establish Mahendra Singh Foundation – a New-York based NGO to help women survivors of violence from across the world. She named her NGO after her father, who spent his life’s savings for Monica’s medical treatment back in India.
Monica’s resolve to help other women fight for their rights inspired her to join hands with Ram Devineni and Dan Goldman as co-producer to launch Priya’s Mirror – a comic book that talks about acid attacks and how survivors can overcome the trauma and stigma after an attack. Priya’s Mirror was launched in New York at the Lincoln Center on October 02, 2016.
Monica believes that it is important that women who have faced violence must emerge from being just victims and become survivors first and then, move on to being more than just survivors. “I’m going to be strong enough to stand for my own rights, like I did when I said ‘No’ to that man so many years back,” said Monica at the event. “Every woman who faces violence has raised her voice for her rights – has said ‘No’ like me – and they must not stop fighting for their rights, even if they are survivors of violence.”
The creators of Priya’s Mirror had covered the issue of rape in Priya’s Shakti, the first chapter in the series, which was launched in 2014 at the Mumbai Comic Con in India. Ram Devineni, the idea-man behind Priya’s Shakti and Priya’s Mirror, was moved by the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year old medical student in Delhi in 2012, to do something to bring about change in social attitudes and behaviour towards women, and that is how Priya’s Shakti was born.
The comic books in the series can be simply read as comics and readers can also experience images from the comic books in augmented reality by scanning images with the Blippar app. Dan Goldman, the artist for both the comic books, shared at the launch of Priya’s Mirror that the images and augmented reality make the entire experience very powerful, especially for children and young adults from low-income households.
Both Priya’s Shakti and Priya’s Mirror tell a positive story of how women survivors of violence can become strong and independent once they realize their true potential. The word ‘Mirror’ was deliberately used for the chapter on acid attacks, to point to the stigma attached to women whose faces have been disfigured by acid burns, and the comic book aims to end that stigma. As Monica said at the launch of Priya’s Mirror, “I cannot make my scars invisible, but you people can, by looking at me not as an acid attack survivor, but as Monica.”
The Priya’s Shakti team is planning to make the next comic book covering the global and urgent problem of trafficking of women and girls.