It probably takes an outstanding level of commitment, stubbornness and willpower to convert a festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, into a scary, nerve-racking experience for people just trying to have a good time. Holi was once one of my favourite festivals, until of course, I became a teenager. Suddenly, my mother began insisting I played with girls only, stayed close to home and demanded that I return home early. As soon as the week before Holi started, I was to cover my face while I’m outside, make sure I’m wearing proper clothes (whatever that means) and avoid eye contact with any man or boy on the streets (because that could provoke them).
This went on each year until Holi wasn’t fun anymore and now I simply stay at home and hope that no one comes to my house to ‘surprise’ me with colour all over my face while screaming, “Bura na mano, Holi hai!” (Don’t mind, it’s Holi!).
Originally, Holi was supposed to be about celebrating by applying one tiny dash of dry coloured powder on a person’s cheeks. We then decided to take it a step higher and started using coloured water. Pichkaris and water guns started selling like crazy. But that still wasn’t enough. We started using stronger colours in our pichkaris that wouldn’t fade for days. We took it even further and started ‘playing’ with water balloons by throwing them at unsuspecting strangers. Who cares about consent, right?
@DelhiPolice I'd really like to know what measures are in place to help the women and girls in Delhi who are scared to leave their homes because they might get pelted with balloons filled with water, eggs, or even semen? Just because it's Holi doesn't mean anything goes.
— MB (@mbunny04) February 26, 2018
Our madness has grown tenfold since the days Holi was a harmless festival of colours. Today, Holi is no longer just a simple festival about good over evil. Today, you cannot walk on the streets without the fear of becoming a target of someone’s ‘right to practise religion of choice’.
Women have been expressing their concerns about their safety at work, at home, on the streets, in public transport and social media for a long time now. The days preceding and following the festival of Holi add an extra layer of fear for women when they have to tolerate aggressive touching and groping in the name of fun and laugh it off because ‘Holi hai.’ (It’s Holi).
Reports of women becoming victims of water balloons aimed at their breasts and hips, eggs and even balloons filled with semen and piss are not news anymore. Like all the other forms of harassment and molestation, women have had to accept these forms of ‘fun’ too.
Check out this recent post by a woman describing an incident that happened to her recently.
Holi is here, again and so are the well aimed balloons, being thrown at women and gender non conforming folks because the Holi spirit is such that allows for another mass celebration that objectifies women's bodies!
— Pinjra Tod (@PinjraTod) February 27, 2018
The society has time and again blamed sexual crimes against women on their clothes, eating habits, speaking styles, and ‘influence of the west’. When women were molested on New Year’s Eve a few years ago in Bangalore, fingers were pointed towards the women who were out celebrating. When women walking outside around the time of Holi get egged and balloons are aimed at their breasts, it is again the women at fault.
These men and boys, who think they can do whatever they want, hiding behind a face covered with colours and paint on Holi, who assume they can molest women and little girls and declare it ‘in the spirit of Holi’ mustn’t be allowed to get away with their crimes. We have come too far now in terms of voicing our concerns about our safety from sexual harassment and molestation. With women all over the world fighting against the ease with which men get away with crimes against women, we cannot take a step back by not speaking up.
So, this year, if someone tries to grope you or force you to ‘loosen up’ or ‘relax’ because they want you to celebrate Holi their style, demand that they stop. Speak up, scream, shout – do anything to make sure the other person knows you’re not comfortable with their aggressive way of celebration. (Even if you feel that it’s 2018 and you shouldn’t have to explain the concept of consent to a grown man.)
With women all over the world fighting against the ease with which men get away with crimes against women, we cannot take a step back by not speaking up. So, this year, if someone tries to grope you or force you to ‘loosen up’ or ‘relax’ because they want you to celebrate Holi their style, demand that they stop.
Do anything but let it go. It’s our responsibility to make sure he knows he cannot keep doing anything in the name of fun and we’ll laugh it off because we’ve gotten too tired to keep fighting the same crap every single day. We owe it to not only ourselves and other women of our generation, but also the future generations of women that we’re going to leave the world to.
P.S. If you’re one of those men who think it’s fun to hold a woman down until you’ve covered every inch of her face with colour and then yell “Happy Holi!”, it’s not fun if you’re the only one enjoying yourself.
Also, Google ‘consent’ before you leave to celebrate Holi this year.
Nandini Arora, part of Safecity’s #WritersMovement, works as a Brand Manager in New Delhi. Although married to numbers, her first love has always been books and writing. She regularly writes about issues such as women’s safety, Feminism, LGBTQ etc.