By night, she roams Mumbai’s Kamathipura in search of sexual predators, whose genitals she can turn into stone with a single shriek. By day, she is an affable bai, who cleans homes and washes laundry. She is Bai-sexual.

The superheroine, created by artist Rucha Dhayarakar, was an entry in Sthree Sthree September, an online event organised by the artists’ collective Brainded India. Dhayarakar’s submission came with a complete backstory: “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 on its Facebook and Instagram pages, along with about 25 other creations sent in by Indian artists. These submissions were in response to Brainded India’s open call in August inviting artists to illustrate an Indian superheroine and detail her powers, costume, name and insignia.

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Bai-Sexual by @ruchadhayarkar Growing up in a brothel in Kamathipura, Bai was exposed to the dark side of human sexuality at a very early age. Cat calls, pinching, groping and lewd gestures were like general greetings, it was life. 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. One night, when she was 10, while waiting outside a lodge for her mother, two men tried to take advantage of her. She ran, helpless and screaming, but nobody heard her. She screamed and screamed until her pitch shattered some windows nearby. At this point, the men stopped. They were staring at their penises in shock. There was pin drop silence for a few seconds, until the men started bawling and ran away. That’s when Bai realised, she could turn penises to stone by screaming at them. And Bai – Sexual was born. Over the years she became a wonderfully strong person, unafraid of men, unashamed of her origins and unabashed with her language. Now, in the day, Bai works as a maid in the nearby houses and during the night, zips through Bombay on her trusty motorbike, keeping the streets safe. At some point she realised that being caught on camera scares men most. So now, her phone is her prime weapon. She is well known on social media and runs an Instagram account called ‘Rock Hard Penises’ where she shares reaction videos of sexual deviants when they see their manhood permanently sculpturised. Needless to say, the page is doing rather well. #sthreesthreeseptember #ecomixer #baisexual #womenincomics #comicsinwomen #vigilante

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Sthree Sthree September “was the culmination of many parallel conversations,” said Catherine Rhea Roy, editor-curator at Brainded India. “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.”

Almost all the entries had elements of fun and humour, said Roy. “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.” Each entry went through an approval process to ensure the correct message was sent out.

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'Nobody said the world is fair, but you can be fair.' Vanita Fair, Vigilante and Heiress of Fairwell Cream VF works relentlessly to fight poverty, hunger and unemployment, and prove that she not just the fair-faced heiress of Fairwell, the bulti-billion dollar fairness and wellness cream empire. Governed by her doctrine of FairPlay, Vanita Fair works for the judiciary, the government, corporations and the people, making institutions and communities fairer everyday. If they're not fair, she will make it fair with a blitz of her Fairwell white-wash gun. Her weakness: very fair, tall, upper caste men of marriageable age. Concept by @tintinquarantino, art by @appupen. #sthreesthreeseptember #womenincomics #comicsinwomen

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Kruttika Susarla’s superheroine Moh-Maya can “dismantle the patriarchy, violence against women and girls and end mansplaining”. Ankhmari Jaan, created by Arundhati Ghosh and George Mathen, can get men pregnant by simply winking at them.

“We [at Brainded] are not the biggest fans of mainstream superheroes,” said Mathen, a founder of Brainded and a graphic novelist who uses the pen name Appupen. “With Sthree Sthree September, we hope to blow up the image of the superheroine and give her an indie or even and Indian identity. We have lots of exciting new creators who don’t see comics as ‘superhero’ stuff. They tell their own tales in their own styles.”

For some artists, it was not a larger-than-life ability that made their character superhuman – often, it was something as simple as determination. Vishnu M Nair’s superheroine, for instance, is a mother who perseveres in the face of hopelessness, as she attempts to give her children a better life than the one she had. In his comic, Poonam 3000, the superheroine mother works with unrelenting resolve to earn enough to admit her son into a private school.

“When given the brief for a superheroine, my first thought was that it is challenging enough being a woman on a day-to-day basis,” said Nair. “How much difference could fighting off a few supervillains make? What I wanted to show was that this exaggerated, monumental narrative of the giant mechanised heroine, was, at the end of the day, only one of the many smaller tasks a working mother had to complete as part of her day job, to fulfill more humble goals. Also, I wanted to show that whether you are a working mother or a heroine, no one struggle is greater than the other.”

For Lavanya Karthik, inspiration came from grandmothers. Karthik’s Ninja Nani, Argumentative Ammamma, Detached Dida and Peacemaker Paati, are a tribute to these endearing women who run the household with finesse and are never short of providing love and encouragement. Annanda Menon’s superheroine is loosely based on her mother: Miss Pummela is a baker by day and fights goons no matter what time of the day it is.

The panels of the comic created by Menon show Miss Pummela perform superhuman feats as she contorts her body to fold, knead and stretch a goon as if he were a ball of dough. “She stretches their body like a taffy puller,” writes Menon. “Looks painful, doesn’t it? Blood, bones, organs, muscles, every element inside the body turns into a mouldable mass by her touch.”

Manjula Padmanabhan’s Lady Knight, wearing chainmail and shin guards, is a scholar and a warrior. Her superpower: compassion. Padmanabhan is the creator of the Indian comic character Suki, which has been published in newspapers such as Sunday Observer, Pioneer and Hindu Business Line. “It was a lot of fun deciding what elements to add to Lady Knight’s ‘baggage’,” said Padmanabhan, referring to how her character carries supplies to support herself, including a bedding roll, manual typewriter, kettle, paintings and running shoes, among other things. “The point of the character is to send out a message of independence, strength of purpose and a sense of humour, all the things that I believe are essential to life.”

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The one and only Lady Knight by the one in a million @manjulapadmanabhan Lady Knights's super-power is compassion and she rides to the rescue of anyone who needs rescuing, anyone who needs a friendly hand, anyone who needs a sympathetic ear. She wears a lawyer’s collar and a doctor’s stethoscope, signifying her commitment to justice and her ability to heal, to banish fevers, to fight infections. Her shield is the Venus Symbol. She wears chain-mail and shin-guards to symbolize her awareness of the risks all mortal beings face from stray arrows and snapping turtles. She wears nail-polish on her toes and earrings because she accepts that being a teensy bit vain is her one weakness. She forgives herself for it. Her primary weapon is a pen with which she bears witness, takes down confessions, draws portraits. Her secondary weapon is the camera, with which she creates an honest and accurate record of the Truth. She carries supplies to support herself wherever she goes – bedding roll, primus stove, manual typewriter, cook-pot, water bottle, kettle, house-plant, books to read, painting to look at and running shoes to run with. She prefers analog devices which do not need electricity because … who knows when the Power Will Fail? But she has a TV screen too and a desk-lamp, for those days when she’s plugged in. Her vehicle is a strong white horse called Genghis. She’s a Knight, after all, right? So she’s got to have a horse. He’s non-polluting and produces only organic wastes. He does rear up and snort now and then, but that’s only to be expected. Her companions are a parrot and a spaniel. The parrot’s name is Momo. She’s an African Grey and provides excellent conversation. The Spaniel’s name is Bumble. He provides unconditional love. #sthreesthreeseptember #ecomixer #womenincomics #comicsinwomen

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The response on social media, said Roy, was encouraging, considering how these comics are outside the more popular Marvel and DC universes. “With Sthree Sthree September we were only able to ask the artists to give us a character, but we have since received requests, from those who have been reading and following the artists’ works, for prints, compilations and detailed adventures of the female supers from audiences.”