Kadak Collective gets its name from a familiar subcontinental staple — the spiced, strong, hot tea brewed over home stovetops, in neighborhood chai stalls, over whatever hot flame can help you get your fix. The collective, a group of South Asian women and queer folk, use graphic narratives to contemplate issues and stories relevant to their evolving world and the people who hold multiple identities and experiences within it. Since coming together, they have featured at venues as varied as the East London Comic Arts Festival, Multipolis Mumbai, and the St. Louis Expo.

This May, Kadak Collective launched a kickstarter to fund its newest project, an entire graphic anthology devoted to the theme “Bystander.” They describe their project as “a collection of graphic narratives about geography and gender, identity and self, boundary and exclusion through the lens of the experience of the ‘other’– the bystander.”

The bystander can be anyone, but we really only think of them in relation to something they are not partaking in. For me, the term brings to mind the numerous “bystander intervention trainings” we received in college, on how to step in and prevent sexual assault and harassment. Even in those trainings, there was an acknowledgement of the fear and awkwardness that may be involved in inserting yourself into an uncertain situation as a helper. As the bystanders, we were privileged to not be the one in danger, but that did not mean we were totally in a place of comfort. Depending on our own identities and positions, “stepping in” could be a bigger risk than it was for others.

A rapid fire of the contributors’ styles. Image Source: Kadak Collective on Tumblr.

Kadak’s anthology aims to delve deep into that complex positioning of the bystander, asking how standing in that role may not simply be a product of not caring to get involved. Sometimes being outside of an experience or a situation is due to forced exclusion, or a feeling of not being welcome. As the creators behind the anthology reflect, “…each of us has faced marginalization based on a range of intersecting identities – be it gender, sexuality, caste, class, language, race, region, religion, color – and each of us has experienced different aspects of being a bystander at some point in time.”

The anthology will bring together more than 50 artists, illustrators, writers, and other creatives from 13 countries, both in South Asia and across the diaspora, such as Aleesha Nandhra, Sindu Sivayogam, Soumya Dhulekar, and Shreyas R Krishnan. The Bystander anthology will exist both in print and online, and Kadak Collective hopes, if they are able to raise the necessary funds, to create a series of in-person workshops on the topic of the bystander in South Asia and in diasporic countries.