For me Holi has always been about happiness. It is Colorful. Beautiful. And ahh, the food. It is for this reason that when I thought about writing about Holi, I immediately wanted to begin at a happy note. But when I actually sat down to think about what I would write when writing about Holi as I see it around me, I could not possibly begin at a happy note.
As if unwanted water balloons thrown at us weren’t enough, the inappropriate touching and the forced celebration wasn’t a lot to deal with, the Holi license of objectionable conduct – ‘bura na mano Holi hai’, has been apparently extended to conveniently incorporate semen and urine filled balloons flung at college students in the national capital.
It’s incredible how people haven’t even stopped talking about the #MeToo campaign, and the next issue we need to campaign for has already presented itself. It is appalling how we, as a society, instead of progressing with the time, seem to be instead cultivating new levels of regressive attitudes.
How did we reach a point in 2018, when women can not only not walk freely on the streets at night, or in dark, isolated corners of the city, but also cannot escape assault in the broad daylight in the middle of a busy market? What are we doing so horribly wrong, that we have produced a generation of men whose idea of ‘celebrating Holi’ is to throw semen and urine filled balloons on women? How are people so blinded by what is fun for them that they unapologetically, violently tread over the fundamental rights of others?
If we momentarily keep aside the absolutely pathetic semen and urine flinging and instead look at this everyday, common practice that all of us, irrespective of gender have faced in our lives at one point or other, perhaps we can locate the roots of Holi Hooliganism.
For instance, the simple childish pre-Holi practice of throwing water balloons on passersby from the saftey of our balconies. I am sure all of us have done it. Some of us might still be doing it. But how many of us stop to think about what we are actually doing? Throwing water balloons on people who may be going to school or work, or coming back home after a long tiring day, or even street vendors, even if we choose to defamiliarise the person, or the victim rather, the basic principle remains the same. It is an act of invasion of someone’s personal space by superimposing our own idea of fun on to others. Innocently singing ‘bura na mano holi hai’ doesn’t negate the fact that somebody has been forced to partake in our understanding of Holi celebration against their own will.
Consent. The importance of Consent cannot be stressed enough. It doesn’t have to be something as obviously reprehensible and illegal as rape that exemplifies lack of consent, it is also something as trivial as the socially sanctioned idea of ‘bura na mano Holi hai’ that needs to be seen as an instance of non-consensual behavior.
Perhaps if we stop our kids from throwing water balloons on unsuspecting passersby, perhaps if we stop forcing people who do not want to get involved, to come out and play holi with the chants of ‘bura na mano holi hai’, and branding them as killjoys if they do not particularly enjoy our way of enjoying the festival, perhaps if we stop to think for a second, we will realise that as much as we have a right to play Holi, others also have the right to play or not play Holi. Rights are not absolute. You have to exercise your right in such a way that it does not interfere with or take away others’ rights from them.
If the lack of understanding of the concept of consent was the only problem, there would also be cases of flinging menstrual blood filled balloons and not just semen filled balloons. But since there isn’t, the only reasonable explanation for this is the male-dominated society that we are all a part of. It is the patriarchal ideas of masculinity, power, dominion over the weaker female section, that the male section of this society has been fed with all their lives, that has today produced semen flinging men, under the garb of Holi celebration.
The fault lies with us. Every time we explain away a guy’s misbehavior with ‘arre ladke toh hote hi aise hai’, we are sanctioning objectionable behavior as the norm. Every time we blame the girl for the harassment and assault that she has been put through with ‘arre usko zarurat hi kya thi waha jane ki, ghar mei nahi reh sakti thi’, we concretize the already problematic rhetoric of it always being the girl’s fault and never the guy’s fault.
It is a result of this everyday, seemingly insignificant, normalized social behavior, that has today led to multiple incidents of men attacking women, in the public spaces, with semen or urine-filled balloons, at the pretense of celebrating Holi.
If change is to come, and it needs to, it is way past the levels of endurance, it will come from us. It has to come in the way we raise our kids. It has to come from our problematizing of the normalized behavioral codes in our gendered society. It has to come at the level of thought. And it has to be assisted by our constitution. Because ironically people in our country are more fluent in legality than they are in common sense.
Ji haan! hum bilkul bura manenge! If you too have an incident to share. Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and raise the voice!