The world celebrated International Women’s Day recently. Most of us chose social media to express our views and show our love towards the women in our lives. Some advocated dedicating more than a single day to these unparalleled humans who need to be respected every day. Will we keep this promise, or was it just a to fulfill our social media duties, to go with the trend?
This will very shortly be answered because it’s time for India’s spring festival. Holi is here. Let me give you a fact: Police received 35,890 complaint calls last year on Holi – mostly from women, for harassment, rape, and molestation – and these were only from urban areas. Women in rural areas seldom make formal complaints because of fear their family will get a bad name.
While women are already unsafe on normal days, Holi is taken as a license to openly harass them. You are grabbed inappropriately and have colours thrown on your body parts in a depraved manner. You are attacked with balloons which may be filled not with water, but egg, stone, or acid. Holi is meant to be enjoyed, but you can’t walk freely on the street because you never know what hits you. The next ‘water’ balloon could send you to bed for weeks, cripple or disfigure you for life. But wait! You can’t feel offended, because ‘bura na maano, Holi hai’ – “don’t mind, it’s Holi”.
Not limited to the Holi day, this goes on for weeks. The ominous saying, ‘bura na maano, Holi hai’ becomes a slogan for public assault – not only on streets, but also at private parties. You cannot escape the ritual of panic.
The sacred bhang, a beverage made from cannabis leaves and flowers which has become synonymous with Holi, makes the festival more ‘memorable’ for you, is taken as an excuse to grope you. Just when you think you are safe, you are not. You turn to find an unrecognizable face whispering, ‘Bura na maano Holi hai’.
Bollywood movies and daily soaps fail to differentiate between mild flirtation and sexual harassment in their Holi scenes. The lead actor colours his face, stalks his prey, perversely grabs her and smears colour on her body. But it’s ‘okay’ because he is the hero. The hero can never be wrong.
Since when has Holi become the festival of hooligans? In its true essence, Holi is a colourful festival which aims to bring people together, teasing each other by applying colours, to spread the message of oneness. Friends and relatives gather to play with colours, eat sweets, and rouse a sense of wholeness among every individual. Lately, it is anything but a happy festival. How can we spread the message of oneness and completeness unless we include our women in our celebrations? How can we ensure a happy society unless our women are happy? Do they deserve equal recognition only on International Women’s Day? Will hooligans again rule the Holi? So many questions to be answered.
Holi is here. We have a chance to frame our own answers, change the ritual of panic – if we wish. And a sincere wish is all it takes.