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It’s Complicated: Feminism In The Indian Comedy Scene

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Like all other artists, comedians also share a responsibility of making an impact on the larger audience. But when it comes to talking about the equality of sexes while serving humor as a side dish, one of three things happen – comedians either tell it like it is, ridicule it hiding behind the good ole “just a joke”, or take a problematic neutral stand. Something like Kanan Gill did in his stand up bit last year. “I’m not sexist, but I am also not a feminist,” says Gill, while establishing an imaginary middle ground in which he claims to be ‘outside’ of debates on gender disparity. The joke works, but also speaks volumes on how dissociation within a certain context takes an opposing stand.

So, Are There Feminist Comedians In India?

effbee_1479895664Comprehension of feminism in the Indian comedy scenario is complicated. It varies from comic to comic and audience to audience. It can be observed that there is a decent lack of female (and feminist) comedians. All India Bakchod (AIB) marked the beginning of their career addressing victim blaming and homophobia in their sketches. Later this year, Tanmay Bhat broke down the actual definition of ‘feminism’ in a series of snapchat videos and called out the ones who do not associate with it. The inclusion of feminist-friendly humor continues to appear in almost every video. Following this, comics like Karunesh Talwar and SNG (Schitzngiggles) also came out in their recent comic bits.

Although, AIB aren’t the first comedians to put themselves out as feminists on stage. Enter Radhika Vaz, the face of radical feminism merged in a waggish nature of stand-up comedy, sketch comedy and writing. Her feminist comedy set, ‘Unladylike’ was on stage long before anyone in India could even think of a pro-women joke. ‘Older, angrier and hairier’ came out in 2013. Rad Vaz’s comedy owns a persona that makes women live in the moment of a relinquished (or say “screw everything”) freedom.


“There are some feminist comedians for sure. AIB did that one video with Kalki ages ago. Similarly, Aditi Mittal has always been out and proud as far as I remember – there are definitely voices out there and I think they will get louder and stronger as time goes by,” said Vaz when asked about the status of feminism in Indian comedy culture.

It can only be the sexist in us (and the media) who couldn’t notice when a woman was already around yelling “Yo! We all should be feminists’’ in an hour-long material, but wow-ed the man later saying the same thing in a Snapchat video. Ironically, you have to give it to Tanmay for calling out this very fallacy in AIB’s latest sketch.

Aditi Mittal is another gem and probably the most outspoken feminist comedian. Her hilarity emerges from a frustrated self in a society reeking of casual sexism. When it comes to calling out the hypocrisy of a patronising culture that revolves around feminine-products, Aditi takes on everything from sanitary napkin ads to bra-shopping. She has also been ahead in demolishing the sanitised version of feminism demanded by the corporates. In a riveting panel discussion, she explained how a mere observation of her upbringing in the family made her a feminist.

“I am generally an angry person and that’s where my comedy comes from. I was amazed with how things were different for me as a girl, like how my brother could stay out for long and I couldn’t. I remember thinking a lot about it. When I came to know of feminism, I was so excited to find that there is finally a word for this. We are living in a delicate time and comedy sometimes, can be very unforgiving and extreme. There are a few out there who use sarcasm to call out misogyny, but to me that is still offensive because you’re pointing out the obvious ridiculousness and not clarifying to me the other side of that thought.”

What About TVF?

The Viral Fever (TVF) is one of the most popular comedy groups in India with a plethora of sketches and web series like “Pitchers” which currently scores a 9.4 on IMDB. This online community is adored for its style of relatable humour which lampoons the evident circumstances of a clichéd Indian student lifestyle and makes the content grippingly funny. As Naveen from “Pitchers” puts it, “clichés exist for a reason”.

TVF has been on a back foot when it comes to feminism. Their recent MasterChef parody involves a 5-second mock of the movement. “Sir, I cannot make you a sandwich, because I am a ‘feminist’,” says a man who appears feminine and is asked to leave. This not only derides the feminists but also the queer community.

In Tinder Qtiyapa, the guy is shown to suspect the girl’s “normality” from the absence of a “pout-face” selfie on her profile. He again left-swipes another profile saying “feminazi”. TVF has normalised public-stares in this video, reinforced objectification in this sketch, and the sexism in “Pitchers” has been best called out by Noopur Raval in this blog. Apart from this, they have always liked the term ‘feminazi’. Reason? Demand and supply. Sexism is a reliable medium in producing despicable humor which a bigger population enjoys and consumes. This results in more chances of a woman speaking up for basic rights being addressed as a feminazi, than a feminist (a rational human being).

I Am A Feminist, But..

Though Daniel Fernandez has spoken well on controversial issues like marital rape, student suicide and death penalty, in a recent performance he disdained the nature of radical feminism by calling it “terrorism in feminism”, and advised women to react to misogyny and not “overreact”. The Mumbai-based comedian took a sarcastic blow on male privilege, but ironically missed the point of it when he drew a line between harassment and flirtation in the context of Chris Gayle’s case of workplace sexism.

Similarly, The East India Comedy’s feminist approach seems rhetorical. One of their earlier videos “I Am Not A Woman” presents an apology to women on behalf of men with some flawed eloquent assertions. Their latest commentary “Fuck Feminism” strongly condemns the absurd (and basic) arguments against feminism. The big picture still remains faulty. Pointing to an Airtel ad, Sorabh Pant says, “The woman who is also the boss of her husband is “multitasking” when she also cooks, there is nothing wrong with it.” Then it later comes to the same lost rage over rapes and how things are changing. They are not.


What EIC couldn’t grasp is that feminism is not just being anguished over rape statistics, it is about abolishing the roots of a culture and a mindset which dictates rudimentary gender roles, that later result in violence against women. The woman in that ad is shown to be cooking not for her ability to multitask but for an appreciation of her abidance to the “duties” of a wife.

Not everything is a fault of the comic. There is a difference in dispensing a joke to a diverse population and “selling” it to a target audience. Stand-up comedy in India is rapid in being accepted, but not rapid enough in having a perception that doesn’t come at the expense of the oppressed. This puts the comedian in a spot where they cannot be completely left or completely right, but still have a choice of breaking this transparent wall. Folks like Aditi and Radhika do break it. Their comedy comes from a legitimate space of having had enough of patriarchy that frees them from such bondage and yet it wins the audience, because they mould it into a context that Indians relate to. This is the reason why they are called feminist comedians and not comedians who speak about feminism.

The opinions expressed in this article are based on personal observation with helpful inputs from Aina Singh and Vaishnavi Sundar.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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