From mothers to maids, the amazing women brought together by art collective, Brainded India are fighting for a common cause – battling the country’s toxic masculinity.
By day, she is one of the thousands of women who work around Mumbai washing dishes, sweeping floors and doing laundry – an affable bai (maid); but no sooner does the sun set, she transforms into a ‘lady of the night’. Prowling around Mumbai’s infamous red light district, Kamathipura, she hunts down sexual predators and turns their family jewels into stone with a shriek. She is Bai-Sexual and she is just one of the legion of superheroines leading the fight against the toxic masculinity that has gripped India for centuries.
An online initiative launched by the artists’ collective Brainded India, Bai-Sexual is a creation of illustrator Rucha Dhayarakar.
The character debuted in the online event is known as Sthree Sthree September; and Dharyakar’s entry comes with an origin story for her character. “Growing up in a brothel in Kamathipura, she was expected to follow the path of her mother and become a lady of the night, and a lady of the night she did become, just not in the conventional way.”
Brainded India posted Bai-Sexual along with 25 unique creations sent in by artists from across the country on their Facebook and Instagram pages. These illustrations were made in response to an open invitation by them posted in August to artists asking them to drop in ideas for an Indian superheroine with unique powers to fight the stifling patriarchy in Indian society.
Characters of time
In an interview to Indian media, Catherine Rhea Roy – editor-curator at Brainded India had said, “Sthree Sthree September is the culmination of many parallel conversations. The impossible expectations on women, the heinous crimes and incidents of violence against women and girls, and we thought what better way to capture this absurd dichotomy in art than with superheroines. The superheroines have been regular women, like domestic help, mothers, bakers, girls who like to party, schoolgirls, all with a single thought in their head – how to prevent sexual assault and violence against women? What we saw in the entries were agents who could curb the daily menace – cat-calling, leering, gawking – the everyday irritants we come in contact with in public spaces, public transport or while simply walking down the street.”
Annanda Menon’s superheroine, Miss Pummela is a mother who runs a bakery by day and fights predators and goons at any time of the day. She can stretch, knead and pull the bodies of her enemies like she does her bread. Under-Woman fights her arch-nemesis – the condescending men who would rather spout idiocy than be proven wrong by a woman. Moh-Maya has the power to domestic violence a thing of the past while Vishnu Nair’s Poonam 3000 series explores the struggles of a superheroine mum trying to give her child a better life than the one she had. The comics are stories of perseverance in the face of hopelessness. A reflection of all the women around the country who are determined to work for a better future.
Of course, a hero is only as good as the villain they face and Brainded’s coterie of villains is right up there with the villainous faces of Batman’s rogues’ gallery. There is Uparman – the mansplainer every woman has had to face at one point of their life or the other. S-mother India would rather smother and blind you in her claustrophobic patriotism than germinate the seeds of free thought and then there is the grandest of them all – Rashtraman, the man who would make you believe that criticizing the government is radical terrorism and that the sun revolves around his rashtra (country). To quote the villain himself, “You tell them a lie. A simple lie. Repeat it as often as you can and they’ll take it as the gospel”.
Ritika Saha, a fine arts student and graphic designer from Kolkata, in a conversation with Media India Group said, “In a time when India has been declared as the country least safe for women, superheroes such as Bai-Sexual and Moh-Maya are the need of the hour. The artists creating them are using humor and irony to put out the problems of a common woman. This is way deeper than the mass market superheroes you see on-screen. That they are getting this sort of traction on social media just goes on to say a lot about the impact that they have made on us.”