Holi Is A Festival For Some, But A License To Abuse For Most

Tw: Mention of assault

It’s extremely easy to prove someone wrong, or right, by sharing any insight about any goddamn thing in the world, and that’s precisely because you’d want to elevate your opinion and transcend it into an argument that is well-supported with evidence. However, there’s an Indian mind, which comes at play at such precise moments and situations where rationale must precede tradition; but it doesn’t because it’s India.

Representational image.

The tradition is the festival Holi. The situation is that it’s really bad during, or around, Holi, as people find it to be the best opportunity to abuse others, especially women, under the garb of “bura na maano Holi hai” (loosely translated, along with an arrogance which dominates this festival, as “Chill! It’s Holi!”).

The evidence is this: Last year, a Lady Shri Ram (LSR) student posted on her Instagram a picture where her Kurti told a story what happened with her on Holi. A balloon filled with semen was flung at her.

There’s been a string of incidents which are enough to conclude that Holi is not a festival, but a license to molest people. To harass women, to “play” with children, to tear clothes. To hide their long-suppressed desire to touch another person, be it of any gender, and cross the line boldly because if anything happens, this festival has devised a fantastic verbal tool to counter your objection toward it: Bura na mano Holi hai!

The rationale now is to negotiate among your family, friends, and all near and dear ones about what sort of a celebration you and they believe in. To identify those obvious gaps that encourage otherwise good-for-nothing people to harass others. But that won’t work. I’ve both lived experiences to prove that your family or society will reject that negotiation. And I have a practical, well-studied account too, which will clear all your cobwebs as to why I believe our society endorses such violent behaviour during festivals like Holi.

It’s Okay, Don’t You Cross Your Line

It’s 2002, I was in grade 3 and my elder brother in the 5th grade. Like always, our family went to visit our grandparents during a festival that’s a ‘one-off’ celebration in Hindu culture. (The other such festival is Diwali.) My father loved going to his hometown. I don’t even know if it should be called a town, as it’s a village. A very small village – named Tilothi – that’s a few kilometres away from Sasni – which comes under Mahamaya Nagar or Hathras district. Depending upon who’s ruling UP – Mayawati or Mulayam Singh. However, given it’s Yogi’s government now, I don’t know what if it’s called whatever name they’d want to give it.

He used to recollect his childhood memories. Those times when he used to wait for this festival, for no matter how poor a family was in this village every child used to get some money (or paisa) that day from their parents. Mostly everyone used to wear new clothes to see the dance of Kali (Indian Goddess), and to attend a mela (fair) afterwards. He used to say that the mela used to be quite a sight, but I didn’t find anything pleasing when I was a kid.

All these are the decent parts. The ugly used to happen in the morning. The ritual was that every ‘male’ member of the family would go out and distribute jau (a twig of barley) and seek elders’ blessings. And those same hooligans would come out on the street and throw children into ditches.

Representational image.

Yes, these people used to place huge drums – each one with a different colour – those were wheat containers. On Holi, these drums were emptied in their houses, and those were kept in the main village near the most influential guy or Sarpanch’s place – there used to be a chabutra (a scaffold) where these drums were kept, and a kid was dumped in them.

The fact that they used to play with innocent children; the fact that they used to throw them into those drums like you dip a rusk into a cup of tea. It’s that simple for them. But, it’s difficult for those children. We were from the ‘city’, so were spared. There are certainly some advantages to being a city kid.

However, that shield didn’t last long for we had some uncle–we used to call him tauji–who forced my elder brother and dropped him into an extremely dirty and stinking ditch. It. was so dirty that for days I used to think my brother still smelled. I know it might be funny, reading this, but it was damn frustrating for a kid. My brother naturally retaliated, but no one wondered that he would abuse, and he did: “Ye kutta tau hai humara.” (He’s dog, can’t be my uncle.) I certainly had no objection to this; however, my father did. He eyed at my brother and it was a signal that he’d crossed a line. But, he was equally harmed so he was spared that time.

Everyday Street Harassment Sets The Stage For Holi Harassment

Revellers throw coloured water to a bike rider as they celebrate Holi festival in Guwahati, Assam, India on March 21, 2019. Holi, the popular Hindu spring festival of colours, is observed in India at the end of the winter season on the last full moon of the lunar month. (Photo by David Talukdar/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Who reads these days? And who on earth, in Modi’s India, reads or talks about our rights? It seems that this post is much about my brother, because in this ‘practical’ example I’m citing a report which was a product of a group that’s formed in 1991 – my brother’s birth year. The Gender Study Group (GSG) focused two years researching the issues of sexual harassment in Delhi University.

The group found that 28.44% of the respondents to their study leave their hostel during Holi, or they don’t leave the hostel premises at all.

These respondents cited an array of ways in which they’re harassed–throwing balloons, harassing while riding past with a fast-moving vehicle, forcefully applying colour, throwing condoms filled with water. Yes, they all cited these things in their report. And what’s happening now? It’s all the same. There’s no difference between what used to happen in 1991 and 2020, except I think the scale of the issue. It’s not just physical, it’s online too now.

I don’t seem to have and neither do I claim that I have a solution. The only solution to this is to tell your boys to behave. It’s that simple. Don’t tell your 10-year-old to not cross the line upon abusing a molester, instead tell the molester to mend his ways. The gender pronouns used herein invariably male for the abuser, the molester, because that gender dominates the sphere–it’s easy to assume that there’re no women in that category except those Bhabhi(s) and Didi(s) and other women in your family who feel extremely proud after rubbing colours inside your mouth or sometimes tear your shirt up and massage the colour on your chest. It’s happened with me, and I found that ridiculous, but I’ll still say that compared to men it’s nothing. However, no one is competing here for tragedy.

One is making a point, and the point is this: Holi is no more significant as a festival to me, it’s a tool that gives freehand for people to abuse others and violate their rights.

Similar Posts

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below