Holi , the festival of colors, one that was traditionally meant to be a healthy playful interaction between people of opposite sexes within mutually acceptable limits (expressly laid out or understood by implication) has transformed over time into an unholy experience for womenfolk.
Bollywood has glorified it big time. Depicted as a teasing game, women are made to wear white, see through clothes that leave little to imagination when drenched. Cheap vulgar lyrics of holi numbers serve to augment the imagination of perverts. Holi serves as a bonanza for all the rogues who manipulate it as a legitimate excuse to feel, press, push and fondle the female body anywhere and everywhere. Not only women, many times young boys and even grown up men complain about being unceremoniously groped during holi. People drink and compel others too to consume bhang and other intoxicants to augment the fun and then use the same as a defence to justify their inappropriate behavior. In the garb of festivities, people refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer. ‘Bura na mano holi hai’ serves as a valid excuse for them. Voices that denounce the toxic masculinity on display during holi celebrations are sought to be silenced by vilifying them as ‘Hinduphobic’.
Majority of the women have experienced sexual harassment in a mild or severe form at one or another point during holi festivities. For them playing holi can be a nightmarish experience and they either stop playing holi or employ excuses such as skin problem, periods or other reasons to justify their reluctance from engaging in the celebrations. They are then ridiculed by calling them chicken hearted, kill joys or labelling their behavior as prudish. Rural areas witness holi festivities in the crudest form with mud pits being specifically prepared and then women related or unrelated being flung into the swampy pit. There is the traditional ‘lath maar’ holi; but prurient freaks distort the essence and make it nasty by their offensive behaviour in which holi is played at the woman’s expense. Women try to physically strike at men with sticks, strings, pipes etc., and men defend themselves with drums, buckets and other stuff which they also use to throw water on her. During the frenzy that kicks up during this process, she is subjected to the intense leering penetrative gaze of lecherous menfolk seeking an opportune moment to pounce on her and have their share on fun. Urban areas are no better. Community Holi celebrations are upstaged by fiendish miscreants who try to camouflage their motives as impish playfulness. What is worse is when people known to you, trusted by you, use holi playing as a ploy to molest.
Get your facts right. Women want to play holi, because they want to celebrate this festival, not because they want creeps feeling them all over. If she wants to wear white, that is because it accentuates colours. People have different personal boundaries and comfort zones with different people. Play Holi only with those who want to play with you and stay within limits. Unwanted, unsolicited and non- reciprocated attention is harrying. Don’t put others in an uncomfortable situation because of what seems right to you. Festivals need to be celebrated in a way that everyone feels happy about them. Turning it into a harrowing experience for some takes the fervor out.
In cases of sexual harassment, beware of what the law considers, “It’s the impact that matters, not the intent”. Thus, if the woman says that she felt violated, the law will accept that. We have Sections 354 and 354A in Indian Penal Code criminalizing such offensive behavior outraging the modesty of women.
A shout out to all the women, let us reclaim our right to celebrate a safe and harassment free Holi.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.