Garba nights for women: Going to watch/play garba during the 90s used to be such a liberating activity. You’d grab your dandiyas, round up your friends and head to the practice ground where an older didi would be banging her head day and night against one of the pandal pillars, trying to help participants get the steps right.
Every evening for those nine days, girls, women and some boys, would dress up in their finest, all decked up with traditional jewellery and take a position to dance to their heart’s content. If you failed to make the cut to the premiere circle of performers, you could still enjoy with other youngsters in your league at the periphery of the festivities, accompany your mom and her friends for a round of chaat and mandir darshan and then come back home, already excited for the next evening.
Garba nights used to be about get-togethers, food, dance, unison, coordination and mainly, fun. But then things gradually began to change. The events got bigger, the speakers got louder and the choreography got trickier. Competitive events cropped up on the scene and almost every society began to host its own garba nights. Another thing that changed was the crowd that would gather at bigger events.
These days, the crowd at garba/dandiya nights consists mostly of young men and boys who come to ogle at girls as if they are caged animals to be displayed for the sake of the thrill. At venues where security arrangements are tight, you’ll find boys loitering outside the premise simply to watch women come and go, to “rate” them on basis of their looks or clothes. So what has been our society’s response to this reduction this auspicious occasion to a creep-women-out contest?
On October 12, four young men were held by the Madhya Pradesh police after Bajrang Dal accused the event organisers of promoting “love jihad”. The right-wing activists went on to accuse the organisers of allowing “non-Hindus” to take part in the event.
In the state’s Ratlam district, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, another right-wing outfit, reportedly put up posters outside garba pandals that denied entry to individuals from another religion. “The incidents of love jihad happen like this. Many non-Hindu men come under disguised identities, make friendships with Hindu girls, then begin love jihad. If the non-Hindu men really want to watch the Garba, why donâ€™t they come with their sisters and mothers, instead of coming alone,” VHP’s Dharma Prachar Vibhag secretary Chandan Sharma told The New Indian Express.
So, the move was not taken to protect women or young girls, but to simply keep them from mingling with “non-Hindu” boys. What about the nuisance created by “non-Muslim” boys outside garba pandals? Are women expected to ignore or endure unwanted advances, objectifying glares of men simply because they belong to a certain religion?
Garba is no longer a fun activity for women because men use this occasion to either objectify or police them. Sure, do round up boys outside such pandals who are simply there to create a nuisance, but why do it on basis of religion? It is high time that we reclaimed garba from antisocial elements and hostility. Garba was always about joy, freedom and reverence, and if these themes are missing, Maa Durga will not be pleased, no matter how loud the music and how immaculate our choreography is.
The views expressed are the author’s own.