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Naa Mein Naa Hai, No Means No - Guest Column by Nidhi Goyal, Disabled activist & comedian

February 4, 2019

This week's guest columnist is Nidhi Goyal, the well-known activist and comedian working on disability rights and gender justice. Nidhi is the founder-director of Rising Flame, a Mumbai- based non-profit working on rights of persons with disabilities with a focus on women and youth. Her work spans research, writing, training, advocacy and art. You can follow her work @saysnidhigoyal.

When women were speaking out in the #MeToo movement in India last year, many men came up in discussions and said, 'Oh my God, if you complicate this so much, it will kill the romance. No man will ever approach a woman, because this consent business will scare the shit off him!'

Why is consent scary? It's because we don't have popular scripts that tell us how to take it or respect it. Ladki ke naa mein haan hoti hai(When a girl says no, it means yes), Akeli ladki khuli tijori hoti hai (A single girl is like an open accessible public treasure box), Hasi toh fasi (If she smiles, she is agreeing to you), are some popular Bollywood lines that many of us have grown up with. The narratives tell us stalk her, chase her, do what it takes till "she agrees to love you back" or "belong to you".

This framing of love, romance and relationship is problematic at so many levels. It objectifies women, as something to possess and says that the girl will eventually give in. It shapes the belief that it is only acceptable if the man approaches a woman and of course is certainly acceptable to persist more on every "NO".

What Bollywood also does is depict love and romance in a very able-bodied heteronormative narrative. Where people with disabilities and other diversities rarely find a place. 'So, you are blind how do you fall in love?' was a question once asked to me by a non-disabled college student. Falling in love or making a move or interpreting signs can be confusing, and it could become even more complex when one lives with a disability. Are they holding your hand to assist you or because they want to, are they wiping the corner of your lip because you have limited movement in your arms or because you have expressed interest and they want to take it further, are they looking at you because you are attractive or out of curiosity around your disability? How will then consent not be confusing, when you don't know what are you consenting to?

To add to this confusion is the stigma that persons with disabilities don't have sexual needs or desires, that they are not sexually desirable or attractive, that they are not for relationships or for marriage. Within this group, women with disabilities are often told that beggars are not choosers; that they should be lucky if anyone accepts them, or in more crude and direct words is ready to have them in a sexual/ romantic relationship.

Pressure of silence

This noise not only adversely impacts the sexual self of a disabled woman but forces her to internalize the stigma of being undesirable, of undateable and reduces her ability and right to consent or not. It surrounds her in a pressure of silence if she is abused because people turn around and say 'who will abuse you? why would YOU say no?' This explains a lot of the silence of women with disabilities in the #MeToo movement.

We at Rising Flame have launched the series Naa Mein Naa Hai to unpack some of these complexities. We want to start conversations around these issues that we are hesitant to question, reluctant to understand, or are extremely confused about. Persons with disabilities are entitled to their yes', their no's, and their may bes. We want to enable people with disabilities to situate consent as a natural part of a relationship and as an obvious path to pleasure, and not just frame it within the realms of danger and violence.

At the same time, we want to speak about consent, understand it, unpack it because we need to remember that the line between love and violence is just consent.

Rising Flame is launching the workshop series Naa mein Naa hai in Mumbai on 9 February in collaboration with Blind Graduates Forum of India and Tanya Computer Centre from 1.30 pm to 6 pm at Y B Chavan Nariman point for persons with disabilities. To register please email team@risingflame.org.

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