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Young girls often face their first experience of street harassment even before they can understand what is happening to them. Sadly, almost every Indian girl has one such memory.
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Almost two decades ago, I was about 11 or 12 and for no apparent reason averse to Holi. Although I lived in the pristine Shimla of the eighties and did enjoy playing in snow every winter with friends of both genders, Holi never inspired me enough.
It was Holi again and I was locked in my room all day. All the neighborhood girls did the same; only boys did venture out to throw coloured water balloons and shout, Bura na mano, Holi hai! (Don’t mind, it’s Holi!)
As is still the norm in most places, by evening the colour games had halted and most families had settled down to spend a holiday evening together. Every evening, I used to walk about a 100 meters from my house to fetch milk for the next morning and because every thing looked sober now, I walked to the booth as usual.
On my way back, about 50 meters away from my house, in the narrow galli, this man who ran a paan-bidi shop in the neighborhood sprang out suddenly from a corner, looking every bit inebriated. I stepped back to give him way, but when he was about an arms length away from me he suddenly took out a handful of gulaal from his pocket and just because he was a couple of feet taller than me, rubbed it in my hair very harshly shouting, Happy Holi.
I dropped the milk packets and ran home. Mom kept asking me what happened and when I couldn’t say what exactly had happened, she presumed that some friend from the neighbourhood had played a prank.
After that day, my evening stroll did not happen for many years till I was older, stronger and probably more mature to handle a similar situation, if need be.
I told mom what exactly had happened only a couple of days later and she did take it up with that man only to get a denial from him, that he never remembered doing any of that.
Many years later, I realized that was my first brush with crude public harassment. Maybe it could have happened to anyone who is physically weaker in any given situation, but when you are a woman in India numerous incidents of the same nature make you conclude that maybe it happens more to girls and women and especially on festivals like Holi.
The trauma of such incidents does not go away easily and I now realize that keeping women indoors and ‘safe’ is no solution. Why have we become so twisted that a festival has to be loud, noisy, drunk and ostentatious to be celebrated?
Whether it is Holi or whatever, do not adopt the argument that all is good in the name of a festival.
This post was first published at the author’s blog
Hands against bars image via Shutterstock
Thanks Pooja, for sharing your tormented moments so that the others become more aware what happens in the guise of celebration. I also had a similar experience may be when I was a little older than you. But I tell you, it happened in a small suburb in Tamil Nadu way back, when holi was not a festival that they celebrated. Even now, it is not an important festival in that place, btb. I was walking on a railway overbridge, when a couple of college guys, came threateningly close to me and smeared holi powder on my face and body of course (what else did they intend to do). I stood there bewildered panting for breath, nevertheless, cursing them loudly, which went unheard by them, as they had ran off to torment another woman passerby. No one stopped them.
Touching and harassing women in the name of celebration spirit is taken as a norm. The men develop mob tendency when they get together for anything. This is the time, I wonder, where are their parents. Parents should ask both son and daughter where they were and clarify whether they had crossed limits in the name of ‘FUN’. Parents’ bias for the sons and the women’s lack of questioning of the male members of the household has resulted in such problems. Women should start asserting their rights….yes, we may get ‘bad names’ for that. But doing it continuously will shake up the strong foundation of patriarchy and it would crumple soon.
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