By P. V. Swati:
Recalling the last Holi I celebrated, it is hard to block the torturous memories attached to it. At the age of seven, the Holi day started like any other Holi in the past years. The customary early morning Gujiya and Badam Milk (no Bhang for seven year olds of course), and then the procession of kids was there at my gate to smother me with hues. Armed with my brand new ‘laser’ Pichkari, like anybody else, I left no stone unturned to flaunt my Holi goodies. Friends from all around will come running with a high pitch ‘Happy Holi’ and in no time my face would be dug under few more layers of Gulal. But, soon my Holi wasn’t so happy anymore.
In the turn of events, I somehow got left behind from the children’s procession. In the few minutes I found myself surrounded by a bunch of teenage boys with their faces covered with extreme forms of acne and newly cultivated moustaches. But, their ugly puberty was not just dripping out of their face, their subsequent actions reflected it too. Even before I could get over the pangs of terror and find my way away from them, I was repeatedly bombarded with water balloons and of course the buckets of water between every six hits of balloons. In the quest to protect myself from the draconian attack I was being subjected to, I moved backwards and tumbled upon an iron grill.
The next thing I knew was the doctor from our block was trying to take out the loosened iron wires from the grill I fell on, which were now stuck ‘inside’ the back of my shoulder. In the little consciousness I had, I could make out that my mother was hysterically yelling at those teenage monsters who did this to me. What followed was a series of tetanus injections and some thirteen stitches on my back.
That was my last Holi, some thirteen years back. But, if I was to reclaim the Holi spirit, does a 20 year old girl still have to just fear those hurly bunch of teenage boys loaded with lethal balloons? Or is there more? Well as I have observed from my balcony and news channels in the past few Holis, it seems like there is a lot more. Apart from the nasty puberty driven boys with the silver grease, there are the mighty drunkards with Bhang tablets popped into their whisky bottles and an uncontrollable sex drive. The increasing incidents of rape and sexual harassment faced by women on Holi are a direct by-product of this.
In other cases where such extremities are prevented, women are anyways subjected to lewd comment and disturbing leers. Many times the ‘playing’ Holi itself becomes the garb used by men to molest women. The forced smearing of colours and the unavoidable drenching induced by the gang of men in the locality, puts young girls and women in unsafe situations. This problem has intensified so much over years that in general women restrict themselves from public places where processions of such crude men are in operation.
But, these indecencies do not just victimise women. The balloon attacks which commence almost a week before Holi, derive special pressure in preying women, but others can also be subject to it. The adrenalin rush which is evident in many on Holi, definitely leads to harassment of the ‘weak’ in the proximity. The constant bullying and physical ragging is essential to Holi and is inflicted on one whether the person accepts it as a part of play or not. Many who have aversion to the very festival and avoid getting out of the house are affected by an extreme version of this horror. Often as the part of the ‘play’ people are dragged out of the houses and dipped into mud pools, smeared with egg yolks and cow dung. All this to the person who is not even willing to be even a part of these forms of ‘festivities’!
So, this year let’s sober up on those countless mugs of Bhang and spare women from the virile Holi. Renounce those water balloons and that permanent grease. Let’s play Holi as it is supposed to be. Let’s play a safe and consensual Holi.