Don’t Be A Bystander

South Asian creators tackle uncomfortable topics in an anthology of graphic stories

Kadak is a collective of South Asian womxn, non-binary and queer creators. While each of them is well-known for their ‘day jobs,’ with Kadak they have created a compelling voice that speaks for marginalised communities through creative mediums.

In early 2019, Kadak decided to launch an anthology of graphic stories from non-mainstream communities in South Asia. They invited 50+ womxn, queer and differently-abled creators to query a world where apathy and indifference are normal behaviour. Titled ‘Bystander,’ the project was funded via a campaign on Kickstarter. Kadak raised US$40,000+ through the campaign. Especially heartening was the fact that most pledges were South Asian themselves. Campaign backers included Bishakha Datta, Founder DotDotDot and feminist NGO, Point of View, Nirav Sheth, Founder,, Vivek Prabhakar, Co-founder Chumbak, Anushka Sani, Founder, Thought Over Design and Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director, Landor India.

It has been a long and arduous process to collect and edit the stories, but the Bystander anthology is now ready. The pandemic, however, has delayed its production. In the meantime, the collective has released eight of the stories online at Bystander For The Web and we recommend that you check them out. The digital medium has allowed creators to use images, audio, video and interactivity in a non-linear way. The result is a multi-sensory feast of short narratives that surprise, even as they draw the viewer in.

Ghoorti Nazar (Staring Eyes) is a collaboration between spoken word feminist poet, Sabika Abbas Naqvi and Pakistani graphic designer and illustrator, Samya Arif (OCEA). A set of stunning animated illustrations represent the plight of women who must endure being ogled everyday. As you scroll down, Sabika narrates the poem in Urdu. (The English translation is provided next to the images).

Ghoorti Nazar (Staring Eyes) by Sabika Abbas Naqvi and Samya Arif

Illustrator Kruttika Susarla has collaborated with intersectional feminist writer and intersex activist Valentino Vecchietti to create a satirical comic about ‘Being a Good Girl.’ Graphic designer Kawal Oberoi recounts a personal tale about his grandfather who, scarred by the partition of 1947, would not be separated from his keys.

‘Being a Good Girl’ by Kruttika Susarla and Valentino Vecchietti

The most moving narratives, however, are from the students at Sense Kaleidoscope, an academy for young people with autism. Through a set of heart- rending illustrations and comics, Rohit Anand, Mira Nandi, Pranav Nair, Sakshi Chalke and Kevin Donald communicate what it feels like to “be derided, unheard and outcast.”

‘Friends Won’t Help’ by Mira Nandi, a student at Sense Kaleidoscope

The objective behind the anthology was always clear – to encourage people to speak up for their communities – communities whose voice is under-represented in the mainstream media and idea of the Indian and South Asian subcontinent. However, Kadak had no way of anticipating that the project would be even more relevant in the polarised and fragile world of 2020. Bystander For The Web feels disturbing and current, an encapsulation of the prevailing mood.

Mira Malhotra, Founder, StudioKohl and one of Kadak’s co-founders, says that while the Kickstarter edition is under production, they are looking for a publisher who will distribute the anthology for wider reach. Speaking up and not being a bystander, has never been more important than it is today.

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