The harassment of a Japanese girl this Holi by a bunch of revellers is a sheer travesty of the festive spirit. The harassers crossed all limits of decency by forcefully applying colours on her and then cracked an egg on her head. After all, boys will be boys and we have normalised the perverse Holi catchphrase, “Bura na mano Holi hai’’. It clearly gives boorish men the license to indulge in hooliganism by doing whatever they want to do with helpless and defenceless women. So much for festivity. The fact that these uncouth people did this to a woman from another country speaks to the lumpenisation of our cultural ethos which should make us hang our head in shame. Loutish behaviour has become par for the course on Holi.
This year, a food delivery application drew flak for an advertisement which advised against throwing eggs at people on Holi. The company was dubbed as “Hinduphobic’’. Over the years, Holi has become a nightmarish festival for women. Even in cases when perpetrators are identified, women desist from complaining to the police because such harassment is treated as normal during the festival. In other words, if a gritty woman protests harassment, no one takes it seriously; rather it is she who draws flak for “making a mountain out of a molehill”. As a result, such callous indifference fits the turgidity of male desires as it emboldens anti-social elements and others to grope and molest women without any fear of consequences. In 2018, there were cases of semen-filled balloons beings hurled at women in the vicinity of a women’s college in Delhi. It was the last straw and hundreds of female students in Delhi took to the streets to protest harassment during the festival.
It cannot be denied that Bollywood movies play an important role in shaping ideas around the festival. Holi songs in Hindi movies often feature suggestive lyrics while the female lead is chased by the male protagonist. Feminists feel that these Bollywood Holi songs blatantly objectify women whose consent is rarely sought when it comes to smearing colour on her face. In other words, Bollywood has managed to promote non-consensual actions under the garb of Holi.
Festivals should be an occasion for us to develop a sense of responsibility towards others so that we can celebrate in the proper spirit without inconveniencing or embarrassing others. If Holi festival has earned some amount of notoriety for bringing out the worst in men, the festival of Diwali sees people throwing all restraint to the wind by bursting crackers till midnight. They don’t care a whit about senior citizens or heart patients, forget about animals. Celebrate we must, but not at the cost of others’ modesty and health. Festivities should not be about flaunting one’s machismo, but it should be about healthy enjoyment that respects the other person’s private space. The Japanese girl who was harassed in the name of Holi may decide never to visit India on such occasions in future because of her horrific experience. We should not let religion be associated with incidents of this nature because such despicable behaviour stems from immoral thoughts. Perhaps modernisation has led to the erosion of traditional values and a dehumanisation of the individual — there is a scarlet streak of vulgarity in his character that should be of concern. No religion in the world teaches its followers to behave indecently with women or disturb the piece of senior citizens and heart patients.
No festival gives anybody the right to demean or humiliate others, especially women. Holi, it seems, is unleashing toxic behaviour and eccentricities of conduct among uppity men driven by a false sense of superiority and entitlement. The main purpose of any festival is to unite people and create bonhomie irrespective of their religion and caste. When that doesn’t happen, we need to pause and introspect. Nothing calamitous should come in the way of the unifying force of a festival.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist
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