Nidhi Goyal On Activism, #MeTooIndia, And Finding Humour Out Of Her Disability
- IWB Post
- November 5, 2018
“I’m blind, so is love. Get over it,” says disability and gender rights activist Nidhi Goyal who also happens to be a comedian.
Nidhi has never let anybody’s perception of her disability cripple her vision or her zeal of life. This explains why it has always been super easy for her to find humour in her disability and the society’s ignorance about it. This also is the reason why she is fighting the good fight for others like her through her organisation, Rising Flame.
In a recent interaction with Femina, Nidhi shared what kept her going through this all, and talked about comedy, activism, and #MeToo India. Here are excerpts from the interaction:
“There are so many anecdotes of things that keep happening to me daily, that they provide fodder for an endless stream of jokes. For example, if I am with a friend, there will always be someone who will ignore me and address my friend asking if I want something when I am standing right there! Or there are these uncles scouting for brides on matrimonial sites, who turn speech impaired when they hear that I am visually impaired!” shares Nidhi.
Nidhi’s friends always loved her jokes. Among those who found her jokes downright hilarious was queer activist Pramada Menon who suggested her to go ahead with stand up comedy. In fact, at one point she gave her six months to come up with a script.
Nidhi recollects, “I instantly agreed, without any hesitation. While creating the script wasn’t a problem with my wealth of funny experiences, there were moments of nervousness where I wondered if the audience would find me funny. Was I the only one who found disability and ignorance funny because I was disabled myself? And while I don’t have stage-fright, the thought of immediate feedback was a little daunting. When I went on stage and played out my first joke, however, the laughter was instantaneous and spontaneous. After that, there was no looking back. I was on a roll.”
Besides the gala times at her stand up comedy stage, it is Nidhi’s activism that keeps her really occupied. Talking about her activism, she says, “I do this through training, campaigns, advocacy with the government, training women or people with disabilities, public engagement, public representations in spaces and conferences, research, and writing. So, I use a range of working techniques for the advancement of sexual, reproductive, health, and human rights of women and girls.”
Sharing how she began her activism, Nidhi says, “When I was 15 and was going blind, I remember having a conversation with a spiritual master. I was sitting with a long face and asking ‘why me?’, when he reminded me that I was lucky to have the support of my family where many other women would have been thrown out on the streets. I was taken aback as I hadn’t looked at it from that perspective. That day, I decided that at some point, I would work for other people like me. Later, when a dissatisfaction with my journalism career kicked in, I decided to get into activism. I needed to do some work which would have direct impact.”
Nidhi was in for a shock when she narrowed down to sexual and reproductive health and rights as her field of activism as she found herself at the receiving end of a lot of criticism from the activist community itself.
“No one was talking about these topics in relation to disabled women, because the topic of sexuality is such a taboo in our society. So initially, when I started working as a young activist in Mumbai, people dismissed it as something that was not necessary. The implication was that I was not really an activist, but a pseudo-activist, and also the hidden insinuation that I chose sexuality because I was single, ergo a little desperate, and wanted sex,” she says.
However, she stood by her path and kept moving ahead despite all the hurdles. It was a result of her zealous efforts that Rising Flame was born. The organisation works for people with disabilities.
“Gender- and age-discriminated people are further deprived within their disability, so that’s where Rising Flame will work. I also work with a range of women’s and human rights organisations since my commitment is towards the cause and the issues. Recently, with Human Rights Watch, we launched a report on sexual violence and rape cases of women with disabilities and their access to justice, looking at how they interact with the police and courts. We researched if the environment is supportive and whether the laws are being implemented or not,” Nidhi shares.
Speaking on #MeTooIndia and her work in the direction, Nidhi says, “In the #MeToo campaign, did you see any woman with disabilities saying ‘I was abused?’ There were none, whereas the data says women with disabilities are at a higher risk and face higher levels of violence. So it’s not that a disabled woman isn’t getting raped or harassed, it’s just that nobody is able to hear her out. That’s why we ran a campaign collaborating with #MeToo, where we encouraged women with disabilities to come forth and talk about the discrimination, abuse, and violence they face. We curated short videos, where I also shared a sexual harassment episode that happened to me when I was in college.”