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TalkPoint: Has Holi become a festival of fear for women?

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An Instagram post about a young student being attacked by a semen-filled balloon has generated a slew of commentary on how Holi sanctions sexual harassment and hooliganism.

ThePrint asks: Has Holi become a festival of fear for women?

Holi has become a day of dread when the streets are taken over by violent, power-drunk men 

Kavita Krishnan
Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association

Holi needs to be reclaimed from hooligans.

Holi is north India’s way of celebrating spring and all its colours. Traditionally, Holi celebrations have had something of a carnivalesque quality about them, allowing a temporary inversion of norms and hierarchies. However, it is now a day of licence for the already privileged.

For women in north India, Holi has become a day of dread — when the streets are taken over by violent, power-drunk men who see the festival as a licence for sexual harassment. ‘Bura na mano holi hai (Don’t be offended, it’s Holi)’ is no longer a playful plea but a prohibition — a prohibition on women’s claims to any right over their own bodies. Worse, it’s women who are then locked up by hostels and homes in the name of ‘safety’. Holi hasya ras — humour — too has been taken over by lewd lyrics and misogynist double-entendre rather than sharp political satire. In 1997, the Ranveer Sena celebrated Holi by massacring Dalits in a Musahar toli of Haibaspur, Bihar.

Can we free our traditions from violence? Let Holi be a celebration of colour, of spring, of great music, of diversity and egalitarianism, sweets and thandai, free of ugly displays of caste and gender dominance? Can we teach kids that seeking consent to touch someone is key to all play and pleasure, even for smearing one with Holi colours? It can be done — I’ve been part of the most glorious Holi celebrations at friends’ homes and at JNU.

On Holi, everyone is expected to assume that men will misbehave

Deeksha Bhardwaj
Journalist at ThePrint

“Give a man a mask, and he will tell you the truth,” said Oscar Wilde.

Holi allows men to shed the skins of decency and propriety. Behind the bright colours of Holi lies a dark truth. The truth is that men at the basic and most primal level believe that they have a right to public spaces and women’s bodies.

Growing up, Holi was a festival of colour, water fights and ‘consensual’ play for me. Families and friends participated in it. Little did I realise the safety I felt on Holi was ensured by the very foundation of a patriarchal society, a heteronormative family. I was safe behind the walls of my home; outside there was no one to protect me.

In college, Holi was about celebration within the confines of my hostel. How could I expect men to behave themselves if I decided to participate in Holi the way they do, that is publicly?

It was assumed de facto that men would misbehave. No one seemed to think that was where the problem lay.

I was denied the agency to claim a public space. I was denied the mobility to venture out, even for work. I was reduced to a person who needed protection.

My liberty was at the mercy of men, yet again. The question of equality doesn’t even arise because men’s claim will always supercede mine as a woman. And it was, after all, my fraternity, the community of men around me, who made me feel threatened. A festival of happiness, joy and spring, in its very essence, violates the basic principles of a democracy.

Holi has always been seen as a festival for extroverts, for people who enjoy loud and rowdy atmospheres. It is not surprising then that women, who are, since birth, trained to be introverts, are scared of Holi.

The gruesome report of an LSR student being hit by a sperm-filled balloon is an addition to a long list of incidents involving women on Holi. On this day of the year, sexual assault is sanctioned and socially condoned. The question of consent is after all effaced by ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai‘.

During Holi, otherwise surreptitious sexual violence is carried out openly

Shreya Ila Anasuya
Managing Editor of Skin Stories at Point of View

Has Holi become a festival of fear for women? When was it not?

My strongest childhood memories of Holi are tinged with terror: Men twice my age grabbing me on the street, openly harassing me, both verbally and physically, to an enthusiastic audience consisting of their friends.

Every Holi, I crouched in fear inside my home, knowing that even if I went out with my friends in the neighbourhood, my harassment was openly sanctioned and things that would haunt me for years afterwards could be carried out in a flash.

With the cries of ‘Bura na maano, Holi hai‘, sexual violence that would otherwise be surreptitious — sanctioned, unpunished, but at least surreptitious — could be carried out openly on the street. One could touch anyone. They didn’t need your permission. Consent, already disrespected and abused, completely evaporated. It simply didn’t matter what you wanted. Your body belonged to whoever decided it belonged to them.

Aside from the harassment, I have a problem with the way Holi is played. The horrendous chemical colours, the entitlement with which children are taught to throw balloons and buckets filled with them on anyone passing by. I have a problem with its smug perpetuation of the caste system, which resides in the very assertion that you can touch anyone on Holi. I have a problem with what this teaches us, and what it tells us about this country.

Why are people raising the question of women’s safety on Holi, not on Valentine’s Day?

Surendra Jain
Spokesperson, VHP

The question itself is problematic. Why don’t people ask the same question on Valentine’s Day, when women don’t go to colleges because they are scared and situations often warrant police protection?
A few stray incidents can’t be the basis to make sweeping statements about a festival and its essence. Such things can happen anytime, anywhere. Worse instances of sexual harassment occur daily on the Delhi Metro. Why not talk about that?
Unfortunately, a section of people selectively raises issues of gender and the environment. They talk about damage done on Diwali but not on Eid, they bring up environmental concerns on Holi and not Christmas. These people only want to insult Hindus and their festivals, nothing else.
Women in India enjoy playing Holi as much as men do. Let us not use stray incidents to portray them as scared of a festival that is about colours and happiness, not fear.

A woman’s best bet to have fun without jitters on Holi? Make it a just-girls party

Jaya Dubey
Lecturer, University of California

I just read of a second woman complaining about semen-filled water balloons lobbed at or around a women’s hostel. Nearly 50 years ago, a close relative lost an eye because men were throwing water balloons filled with stones at passing trains.

Can Holi be fun for women? Absolutely. Read the fine print though: be affluent, of an upper caste, and celebrate in gated and guarded spaces. Even then, be alert, trust your instincts; let your hair down only with a trusted few.

I have three words of caution for you: Consent. Consent. Consent.

Be part of a big boisterous group that has plenty of men to “protect your honour” if someone gets handsy.

If you don’t have access to the above-mentioned on the day of Holi, you will be in trouble. If you’re out and about in public spaces—several days before or after the festival—it’s open season on you. “Bura na mano, Holi hai” will be the battle cry of marauding molesters and stalkers.

Your best bet to have fun without the jitters? Make it a just-girls party. No worrying about men — whether as “accidental” gropers, or as kids or husbands or in-laws who need to be fed and looked after even during a party.

Have a blast and women can dance to ‘Balam pichkari’.

Do shots, gorge on Margaritas and Mojitos, or rum-laced thandais (virgins, if you’re a teetotaler) and go wild. Later, find a safe space to decompress if ‘seedhi-sadi chhori sharabi ho gayi’ applies to you.

Happy Holi, guys! Rejoice, and then I want you back on the frontlines smashing the patriarchy like those lathi-wielding Mathura-women whaling on their husbands.


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  1. Sh!t people with sh!t propaganda.. If someone has the problem, sit at home. Why do you even have to write a post on that?? Stop talking sh!t about hinduism.

  2. It’s harsh truth of our growing youth….As now people have started to misuse their rights and celebration moments due to which the law has to past out some regulations now and them….Shame on those people due to which the whole country suffers.They are spot to our country….Immediate and stick reaction should be taken against those people so that the coming youth is does not continue such crimes as they will scared to get punish…

  3. That’s perfectly true. It gives license to men to misbehave with women in the open. It has always been so; but protection from Hindutva organisations in the name of religion emboldened them. Mr Surendra Jain’ s ( of VHP) comments are stupid. There is no comparison between Holi hooligans’ behaviour and those celebrating Valentine festival. Rather it is the government Police and administration where die-hard Hindutva rulers are in power who create social problems. They see threat to them everywhere like one suffering from dear psychosis. VHP is expert in distorting facts. Anti- women and ant-democratic at bottom.
    — Dr Sharad Rajimwale

  4. This is right that some boys insult girls in the name of holi.. This is wrong and shameful thing.
    All should play holi with peace, happiness, joy, love and respecting others.. This is the message of Holi..

  5. If someone attack women with bad comments, abuse then this is wrong. But please don’t blame all men. Because many men are good also. Thank you..

  6. Holi is a festival of love, respect and brotherhood. If anyone hurt people with harmful things this is totally wrong. We should respect both men and women.
    Holi me kisi par bhi jabardasti rang dalna thik nahin.. Ladki par bhi nahin ladka par bhi nahin..

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