Holi Is A Great Time To Teach Everyone About Consent!

Posted: March 18, 2019

Can Holi be a teachable moment for our families and communities, with people coming together in joy and comfort with each other? Yes! Make this Holi an occasion to talk about Consent. 

Almost 25 years ago as a pre-teen in Shimla I never played Holi. Since childhood I was averse to this whole idea of getting ‘dirty’ and also being touched by so many people (unkindly, as it seemed). On one such Holi evening long after the clamour and ‘playing’ had halted I walked to the neighbourhood shop for some essentials as was routine, when an inebriated man literally forced himself on me in a narrow passage, and rubbed gulal on my face and hair, harshly shouting HAPPY HOLI! I ran home and in spite of my mom asking me what had happened, I couldn’t say what exactly had happened.

I felt violated – “inappropriately touched” is the technical term as I learned years later.

The incident had me in shock for many days and I think for years after that, I avoided that path in the neighbourhood altogether. Many years later I realized that it was my first brush with the crude public harassment that most women and girls in India go through, especially around and in the name of Holi.

No other festivals in India involve physical contact with another; in our culture we are otherwise too paranoid of family members of the opposite gender or even couples hugging and touching each other in public view but then hypocritically enough the same society ‘allows’ anybody to violate anybody’s physical space on this one day.

The whole social ambience a few days preceding Holi is that of hooliganism and rowdiness. Boys and men seem to get a short term license to molest and harass anyone, particularly women and girls. What is even worse that any mention of CONSENT in such a scenario is seen as anti-culture, anti-festive spirit and what not!

Women have gone through horrendous experiences like being pulled and pushed from two-wheelers, jostled in public places, forcibly fondled and smeared with gross things ranging from paint, grease, and sewage water to semen.

Holi therefore is the right time to talk in families and society about CONSENT.

Here are a few important points that we need to set as rules in families and communities:

  • Contact doesn’t mean only physical touching; any kind of contact using an object and/or powder, liquid or even inappropriate staring and using foul language is harassment.
  • A relationship of any kind (family member, neighbour, colleague, friend, acquaintance) does not entitle anyone to override someone else’s personal space.

Do not assume CONSENT.

Ask: “May I put a small dot of colour on your forehead for Holi?  Do you want to play colours with me? Are you okay with water colours?”

  • Harassment of a stranger is easier as there is no empathy and/or answerability involved? No, this is also violation of public space and consent.
  • Say NO loud and clear if you want to and respect it when someone else says it.
  • Understand that a YES can become a NO at any point too and must be respected as such if the other person feels uncomfortable.

And most importantly, if our idea of a festival means fear and disgust for someone else, it is time to revise and alter it.

The common phrase used in Holi Bura na mano Holi hai! (Don’t mind, it’s Holi) needs to be changed to Bura na karo Holi hai! (Don’t do ill, it’s Holi!)

Image via Pixabay

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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.

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