Since September, the Times of India began devoting a regular column to the Agent Rana comic. Written by television journalists and author, Juggi Bhasin, and illustrated by Subodh Poddar, the comic is “an action-packed, exciting, serialized graphic novel” whose protagonist is Agent Rana, a hyper-masculine-all-talented-spy who saves the country against the dangers of terrorists, nefarious sleeper cells, and conspiracies. The aesthetics and character development (or lack of it) screams sloppy pulp-fiction-noir stereotypes. Ever since the graphic series came out, it was marred by controversies.
Can this be given to your 5-15 year olds, being groomed to read newspaper @timesofindia? #AgentRana OR is time for PG/U/UA/A certifications? pic.twitter.com/tapnROExDL
— Akhil Chaturvedi (@Akhil_C) September 14, 2017
Even though the comic has ever since started with content that was laced with islamophobia, the recent story line that introduces a new character, who many believe is based on the Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Shehla Rashid, has caused major outbursts on social media. The character, Sameera, is described as a ‘firebrand’ leader who is leading protests against the vice-chancellor at the National University of Delhi. This imagery is reminiscent of 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru College protests. Later an ISI agent (disguising as a terminally ill ex-student and well-wisher) offers 50 lakhs to the agitating students to aid their movement. Sammera naively accepts the money and even offers to show him her hostel room only to be raped and killed in an horrifying manner. The question isn’t just about the graphic representation of sexual violence in a leading daily, and the distasteful or casual manner in which sexual harassment is depicted in it – without adding anything substantial in the story – but how it resembles a living person without her consent.
Fascinating. Agent Rana, TOI’s serialised graphic novel tinged with soft-porn now features an (anti-) National University with a firebrand female student leader about to be funded by an Enemy Agent and fake currency. pic.twitter.com/ZXMx7DRr4F — Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto) January 22, 2018
Feminist groups have also pointed towards the resemblance of the comic character and Shehla.
TOI’s #AgentRana has a character based on @Shehla_Rashid and it’s every violent troll’s most disgusting fantasy https://t.co/JGxJbrwbZ7 pic.twitter.com/JO5dTXa4Ra
— The Ladies Finger (@TheLadiesFinger) January 25, 2018
American journalist, writer, and musician Benjamin Norton was among those who noticed the similarity.
This is vomit-inducing and beyond despicable. Major newspaper @TimesofIndia is publishing a graphic novel that depicts the brutal murder of a female student activist who is obviously based on @Shehla_Rashid. This is a fascist-style incitement to violence.https://t.co/mqfyUZbSwI — Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) January 24, 2018
Speaking about the comic, Shehla wrote in a Tweet, “That’s Indian media preparing for genocide. Genocide almost always follows villainous caricatures/depictions in popular culture and mass media.”
That’s Indian media preparing for genocide. Genocide almost always follows villainous caricatures/depictions in popular culture and mass media.
— Shehla Rashid (@Shehla_Rashid) January 22, 2018
This recent incident isn’t the first time the comic is facing backlash.
Earlier in September, Antara Sen Dave, a reader and a concerned parent has initiated a petition on change.org, asking the newspaper to stop the publication of the novel for its sexually inappropriate content. When asked whether there will be any changes in the comic or will it be discontinued, author Juggi Bhasin told Scoop Whoop that, “The art team has taken note of the views of some of the readers who have found some parts of the content unpalatable. The feedback from readers is always taken seriously and keeping this in mind, we will, as far as it is practicable in terms of keeping the story line in mind, present the content in a manner that it does not affect the sensibilities of the valued readers.” (Read it here.)
By looks of the newly produced content, it seems that the makers of Agent Rana have no intention of mending their ways. Or perhaps, they are market savvy and know that their readership demographic, which is right-wing, misogynistic, and sadistic, and those who will continue to consume this content. This is sad, but the truth. Unless we all collectively realize that Agent Rana is the not the spy we need.
Feature Image Credits: Agent Rana, Facebook