Bangladesh, where acts under the LGBTQ banner are criminalised, is witnessing a revolution. The largest gay rights activist group of the country, the Boys of Bangladesh, have initiated a project that has managed to gain prominence all over the world in less than a month. Titled Dhee (meaning wisdom in Bengali), a heartwarming comic about a young lesbian marks the beginning of this project. And BoB confirms that the protagonist, also called Dhee, is indeed the voice of the LGBTQ community of the country.

Just a regular girl

With no muscles to flex or a spandex costume to step into, the story of Dhee is not one where the day is saved by a superhero with out of the world powers to boast of. A hero in her own right, this curly-haired young girl takes us on a journey through social norms and traditions, the joys and pains of growing up and of course, finding love. To sum it up, she is just like any other girl who just happens to fall in love with another girl.

Released on September 5, 2015, this comic has been executed in the format of 10 flashcards – with the story of Dhee unfurling on one side, and relevant information about LGBTQ awareness on the other. Conceived as advocacy material for the countrywide campaign, BoB explains why they came up with the idea. “When we thought of preparing unique, attractive and effective advocacy material to talk about gender and sexuality, creating a comic character deemed to be the best solution”.

“And that's how Dhee came to be,” BoB continues. “We wanted a Bangladeshi, middle-class girl who is just like anyone else but at the same also stands out. We envisioned Dhee as an empowered, knowledgeable and easily relatable character. It was also very important for us to think of gender stereotypes and not glamourise her. So as you can see from the images, she is not fair, has curly hair and wears glasses. She does not really fit the typical definition of beauty but it is her inner glow that makes her who she is.”

But in a country where violence against freethinkers is far from being out of the ordinary, it isn’t surprising to learn from BoB that right after the launch some Islamist organisations have indeed issued statements against the LGBTQ community, urging the government to take action against them. But does this mean the story of Dhee ends here, after one short, but beautiful chapter? “We don't know yet,” admits BoB candidly. “We have full intention for Dhee to continue as a voice for the LGBT community, but only time will say how far we would be able to do that.”

And what about India?

While Dhee might be the first lesbian comic character in Bangladesh, India was introduced to this path back in 2008 via Amruta Patil’s Kari. Widely considered to be India's first graphic novel on the theme of homosexuality, Patil's work is an emotional tale of everyday love, tainted by darkness. Capturing some of the essence of urban India, story explores urban landscapes, people, loneliness and the social inability to accept a same-sex relationship even though heterosexual promiscuity is the order of the day.

But has this been enough to make a mark in a realm where creators like Alison Bechdel and characters like Dr Mann were already etching out an identity that not just supported homosexual love, but also explored it with incredible tenderness, sensitivity and even humour? Priya Gangwani, editor, Gaysi Zine has an answer. With their forthcoming annual issue revolving around graphic stories that celebrate the LGBTQ community, she promises a release that will address the lack of queer comics. As she puts it, “Graphic stories have the power to reimagine the world and create a new reality. So we thought, would it not be amazing to reimagine our queer realities? Queer art that defies labels, surpasses the angst and shows the choices undergirding the lives some of us live.”

For the uninitiated, Gaysi is one of the largest forums in India that gives the LGBTQ community a safe space to voice their opinions. With a lakh and a half raised through crowd-funding to support their annual issue last year, the love people have for the zine is rather obvious. After all, once you see any of the issues, there is little you can do but love the tremendous effort of a rather small team that translates into beautiful stories and works of art.

Over the years, caricatures, cartoons and sequential art have helped social causes by making radical thoughts more accessible to the masses. And that is exactly what both BoB and Gaysi are hoping to achieve with their creations - creations that might appear to some as child’s play. To quote Karishma Dorai, the creative art director of the previous issue of Gaysi, "Graphic narratives help social causes the way hieroglyphics helped language. When you say something visually, you help invent a new language for it. It is the difference between me saying it's a dude in a red cape with an S written on his chest, to you seeing it and relating to the hope that image is meant to evoke. Words Inform. Images evoke."