Nidhi Goyal: Changing Norms One Joke At A Time

Posted: December 6, 2017

Nidhi Goyal is a disability and gender rights activist and also India’s first disabled woman comedienne. In a conversation with her she takes us on a journey of laughter, smiles and introspection.

For her comedy is a lot more than the ability to make people laugh. It works best when inspired from life experiences that may generate a laugh or two, but actually make people think about the things they nonchalantly say or endure on an everyday basis.

“What I frequently get to hear from people is that I don’t ‘look’ blind. Its like I need to prove my blindness!”

Nidhi Goyal was born in Mumbai with eyesight but was diagnosed with a rare incurable eye disorder at 14. She lost her sight to the disorder by the age of 15. Post this, Nidhi started experiencing a completely different side of society – one that considers disabled persons as barely people, let alone thinking of them as people with desires and aspirations. Not just perceptions but basic facilities for these people are inadequate, educational and professional opportunities are inaccessible and infrastructure falls short. She soon realised that something needs to be done about people’s perceptions of people with disabilities.

“For me, feminism means breaking down power structures. It means equal acceptance, dignity and respect for individuals of all kinds. For me, feminism stands for true acceptance of diversity.”

The girl who grew up as an aspiring painter went on to work as a mass media professional and realised that all her work and effort put into it goes in vain if it does not help bring about a change and make an impact, no matter how small.

Nidhi Goyal then joined Mumbai-based Point of View, working for their project on females with disabilities, and co-authored sexualityanddisability.org in 2012. She even works part-time for various other NGOs and is a consultant for many human rights organisations. Nidhi is also the founder and director of her organisation Rising Flame to reemphasize that women with disabilities are women, too.

“A friend of mine tells me that I am very refreshing to talk to. Now am I equivalent to Mentos?” she jokes, while sharing a few funny incidents from her life. When asked about the power of humour in addressing problematising issues, Nidhi explained how it had always been something she noticed. People are more comfortable talking about things that may otherwise seem awkward, when they are able to laugh about it. And Nidhi never lacked an ability to make everyone around her burst with laughter.

“During a flight the air hostess ignored that I had extended my hand to hold the cup of coffee and had placed it quietly on the table in front of me. Next thing I know is a hot liquid burning my knee. I confront her and sarcastically ask whether I should brief the whole crew that I need coffee and I am blind. The air hostess stood dumbfounded.”

When we asked her about her source of inspiration for comedy, she smilingly says that it has always been her friends with disabilities.

“The fact that there exists a ‘normal’ life means that I must put light to all that exists outside the normalcy. That is what motivates my comedy.”

By the time she took the plunge into comedy, Nidhi felt that she had already become a labelled person, the woman who talks about sex, someone who is the “other” and not “one of us”. But what took away all her fears before her first stand-up performance was her family.

“My whole family had come, and I could not comprehend why. The fact that my father had brought his friends along as well made my jaw drop. But they reassured me that they are well aware that I speak about disability and sexuality. That was the most empowering moment for me. When my family is so supportive of my work then how could a few labels bother me much? I have to do what I do.”

Nidhi Goyal is currently preparing a report for Human Rights Watch. She is also keeping busy with her organisation Rising Flame which works for people with disabilities by building capacities, strengthening unheard voices and generating leadership skills. It also aims to achieve social access and inclusion for all.

“Change is visible. Young women with disabilities are now trying to begin their life and career, which was a rare phenomenon even a few years ago. But deep down we are still a society that does not fully understand disability, does not respect women.”

Nidhi will keep working for a change in perceptions, for better opportunities for women and disabled individuals, and for the creation of a new ‘normal’ that does not depend on casting a shadow on any differently abled or disabled persons. She will be speaking at Women’s Web Orange Flower Digital Summit and Awards in Mumbai on 9th December.

You can register here to attend.

Image source: UN India

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