Nikita Mandhani is a multimedia journalist, a writer and a storyteller. She recently completed her master’s in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, USA Today, Vox.com, Upworthy and several other major publications. Her passion lies in telling stories that focus on different aspects of the society, race and diversity, human-interest subjects, food and travel.
This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide. UN Women and partners around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, launching from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th until UN’s International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
I never told my father I was applying for graduate journalism school in the U.S., just like I never told him when I got my first job. I remember how I’d hide from my parents, stay up late and write content for a local technology blog or stories for creative media outlets because my ambitions never fit in the definition of a “good Indian girl.”
I was raised in Bhopal, a small city in the central part of India, where my childhood was confined by the ideologies of my parents. But, as I grew older, I began to fight with the constraints that my conservative Indian family’s belief system put on me. The more I struggled against the traditional boundaries, the more I hurt my father.
I hurt him every time I said “no”, every time I lied or stood up for what I believed in. And he loved me still. May be because that’s what parents do. I always strived to find the intersection of my aspirations and my family’s happiness. Looking back at the last ten years, I realize how far I have come and it’s gratifying to really understand what drew me to the idea of storytelling – the desire to be heard.
I started writing when I was 11, trying to find solace in my words and in the short stories and poems I wrote in my diary. Over the years, I unwaveringly used writing as a tool to share my story and those of thousands of people I met and observed. Now, as a journalist, I embrace different media to elevate human voices, and hold on to my beliefs and passion to tell stories that need to be told and understood.
I have always advocated the idea of feminism and of addressing essential gender issues that sometimes get lost in the big picture. What helps me understand the importance of a feminist movement globally is the fact that I grew up in a developing country where women either have to fight for their rights or quietly bend to the wishes of a patriarchal society.
I have eventually come to realize that the art of effective storytelling is not only important to share lesser known stories of people around the world but also to create avenues to address relevant subjects.
I produce videos and documentaries and continue to write about refugees, immigrants, women and religion to bring minority issues to the fore and to describe the identity crisis that many face in the United States. Through my work, I have covered stories of discrimination against Sikhs and Muslims, the employability of ex-offenders, and the constraints and norms of society and culture. Also while reporting, I emphasize on patterns and struggles of movement – from a homeland to places where you want to or are forced to belong.
In the end what always helps me go on are times when I make people smile or give them hope by sharing stories of humans who demonstrate extraordinary resilience and courage in tough times. It’s a beautiful feeling when women I don’t know message me to say “thank you” because something I wrote inspired them.
I still have a long way to go and many more dreams to fulfill. Even now I don’t necessarily fall in line with my father’s definition of a good daughter. But as much as I love him, I also love telling stories for a cause and finding ways to spread more awareness about human suffering and strength. And I know one day my father will be proud of me. That’s when I’ll feel a little more complete.