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Agents of Ishq (AoI) is a multi-media project about sex, love and desire in india. Based out of Mumbai, AoI makes fun materials, useful tools, videos, art, podcasts, downloadable posters, true stories, helpful information, incredible maps and GIFs. Everything on their site is based on research, conversations, collaborations with teachers, doctors, activists, youth groups and regular people all over India.

While the UDAYA data provides a comprehensive overview of the Indian adolescent, the researchers collecting this data experience the in-depth  insights and anecdotes about adolescents and the lives they lead. Keen to explore the stories behind the statistics, Agents of Ishq has created a 90 page comic book and four digital narratives based on the experiences of researchers from the field, combined with data insights. The purpose of the comic book and digital narratives are threefold – to highlight adolescent issues in a relatable and entertaining format, to create mainstream social media engagement and conversation about UDAYA data, and to draw media attention to UDAYA and the issues it highlights. 

Based on qualitative narratives, data insights from the UDAYA study and real interviews with the field researchers, the comic book tells the stories a researcher encounters as they travel through towns, cities and villages for their research. The book brings to life various aspects of the UDAYA study by humanising and inspiring curiosity, interest and empathy for the process of research, a researcher’s dilemmas and questions, as well as philosophical questions about ethical research. The four digital narratives are extracts from the book, and will be carried as online comics on Agents of Ishq’s social media channels and website. These highlight key data findings more pointedly and are accompanied by parallel material which mirror the data more directly. 

The team selected themes from UDAYA data insights, like adolescent aspirations, sexuality and mental health, because they dovetailed with general themes of Agents of Ishq like sexuality, pleasure, gender, digital rights, access and engagement, sexual health and bodily autonomy, primarily for a youth audience. The project draws attention to youth experiences and contexts in a multidimensional way, to encourage a different way of perceiving, and engaging with young people.

When describing the research process, members of the team mentioned that the UDAYA data itself was thought provoking, as it tapped into the emotional and social aspects of adolescent lives. “When we think of the Indian adolescent, we usually think of them in the context of school, for example. During our conversations with young people on memories of adolescence, we heard about adolescents going to work, getting married, having all these life experiences… Their worlds are a lot more complicated than our limited imagination.” Speaking to the researchers also proved to be an insightful process. “The researchers behind the data were the ones really able to string together the reality of these adolescents they were engaging with. While the data told us how much gender attitudes have changed due to digital media, the researchers were hearing about the high rates of depression because of emotional or social restrictions etc. What was really heartwarming in the researchers’ experiences was that the adolescents were seeking them out as safe spaces to share their concerns. This idea of research within the framework of care allows a reality which isn’t all black and white, but lets us perceive the adolescents beyond just subjects, but as multifaceted people.” 

The digital narratives have been shared across Agents of Ishq social media platforms, and were well received, and were considered informative, funny and thought provoking. Other than adolescents themselves, facilitators and field level workers engaged with adolescents found the content useful. Several were pleased to have engaging content in Hindi, while others were interested in the reports and data used in making the comics. There was a collective agreement for the need for creating further safe spaces for adolescents, and shared their views on the insensitivity or poor implementation of current policies. 

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How to Use

The comic book and the digital narratives were created in both Hindi and English, primarily for young people online, as well as journalists, researchers and media people who write about youth, sexuality, gender and related social issues. The content resonates with the experiences of young people, their everyday experiences and confusions, and their ongoing concerns enmeshed in emotional and social complexities. 

The secondary target audience for these are parents, guardians and teachers of young people who play a significant role in their lives in creating a healthy, supportive atmosphere for adolescents. Similarly, grassroots organisations and field workers working with adolescents can use the digital narratives in multiple ways – use the stories to inspire young people, use the data insights to further their advocacy, or use the content of the products to initiate intergenerational conversations in the community.