I Shared My Story Of Molestation During Holi On Twitter… And Then The Trolling Started!

Shouldn’t the focus be on getting men to stop molesting women under the pretext of Holi, and not on locking women up? 

I was sexually harassed as a teenager in my apartment complex while playing Holi, and the incident left me so scarred, I never played Holi again. When I shared the story of my harassment on social media, several things happened.

People known and unknown reached out and shared similar stories of harassment. Most were stories of harassment in a familiar setting, and, like me, most of them blamed themselves for a long time. My story was no longer my story, it was the representative story of many others, and I am glad I could give them a voice.

Then the troll army got activated and I was attacked by people of all ages and political ideologies. The hundreds of responses fell into a few categories-

‘Don’t compare yourself with sanskari women’ because of course, only a ‘good’ woman can protest

I was accused of being a woke Hindu with a Christian name, who was taking about being harassed on Holi to defame the Hindu religion. The comments ranged from “don’t compare yourself with sanskari women, because you are not one” to “If you have left Hinduism then stop ranting against Hindu festival and if you haven’t please leave (the religion).”

What they chose not to recognise was the fact that I was not defaming the religion or the festival, the people who chose to use the festival as an opportunity to molest women were doing that.

‘You’re doing it for fame’

I was accused to doing it for fame, conveniently forgetting that no victim of sexual abuse wants to relive a traumatic incident which they would rather forget, and do so only for a larger purpose.

‘A feminazi’

I was accused of being a feminist who only indulges in male bashing. While I am certainly proud of being a feminist, they lack in their understanding of feminism if they do not know that feminists want gender equity, and speak up for men who are victims of patriarchy also.

‘Fake feminist’

Then there were the people who informed me that I was a pseudo feminist or a fake feminist. That certainly hurt, because I am a proud feminist and don’t want to be told I am not one. What made those slights marginally palatable was the fact that those people seemed to know that feminists (real ones) believe in gender equity, unlike me who only looks at things from a female perspective.

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‘What about…?’

Whataboutry is the favourite sport on social media, and, of course, I was asked to comment on sexual harassment during Haj and on the Bishop accused of raping a nun. I was also informed that a gentleman was starting a petition to stop sexual harassment during Eid, Christmas and New Year, and was asked if I would sign that- of course I will. I will sign 365 petitions to stop harassment on each of the days, if need be. I was also asked if I would support a man falsely accused under section 498A– yes of course I will, but one should make a distinction between an individual wrongdoing and systemic injustice.

Personal attacks of all kinds

Then there were the predictable personal attacks. Apparently I am frustrated because nobody wants to play Holi with me, so I try to defame the entire festival. Also, that since I have so much to say about men who sexually harass women, my father, brother and husband must be doing the same too (this time, my kids were left out, and for that I should be thankful).

‘Only women complain about Holi’ – duh yes!

“Do you realise, men don’t complain of harassment during Holi, only women do”, a few said. How does one explain to them that the majority of victims are women and so they are the ones who will complain! Incidentally, a couple of men shared stories of how they were molested under the guise of Holi, but unlike women, they didn’t even have the vocabulary to articulate their harassment.

‘Sexual assault not a crime because unlike murder, you can recover’ – HUH?!

One went as far as saying that, unlike murder, sexual assault was not a crime. That one eventually recovers from sexual assault, so one should not raise a hue and cry over it. I wonder if the person would be as blasé if someone robbed him- one can always recover, can’t one?

‘Only certain community men harass’ – really?!

Then there was the person who specified that only men from a particular community harassed women during Holi, and that men from his community worshipped women. He seemed a little unsteady when I informed him that the person who molested me was from his own community, but he soon recovered and said that he must be an exception. Why is it so hard for men to acknowledge that all men harass, not just “other” men?

Gaslighting from responsible citizens which was worrying

These were the reactions that are so ridiculous one cannot even take them seriously. Though aimed to hurt, they can be dismissed as being of little consequence. However, there were other reactions that need to be taken seriously because, if normalised, they can have far reaching negative consequences for women.

A senior serving police officer tweeted, “Multiple new and old videos of hooligans harassing women in the name of Holi. While condemning the shameful act, one should remember that millions of men and women play Holi joyfully. Every man doesn’t get up on Holi day with a plan to molest women. Such rotten people are there but not big in number.”

This is an extremely disturbing statement, especially when it comes from a police officer, because it goes on the track of #NotAllMen, and tries to underplay the magnitude of sexual harassment during Holi. Just the words “bura na mano Holi hai!” (Don’t feel bad, it’s Holi!) shows that the actions may not be acceptable to those who get molested.

If you speak to men and women, you find that while every woman has either herself been molested or knows someone who has been molested, none of the men admits to knowing even a single man who has harassed women. This clearly shows that there is a disconnect between what women perceive as sexual harassment and what the men thinks constitutes sexual harassment. It is necessary that men acknowledge the issue, so they can be sensitive to harassment and call out other men who engage in it. Statements which imply that sexual harassment is extremely rare release men from the responsibility of calling out harassment within their circles.

‘Women should learn self-defence’ Can men avoid being violent, instead?!

There are other men with good intentions who offer advice on how women should learn self-defence so they can hit back when they are sexually harassed. While it is certainly important for women to know the basics of self defence and to be prepared to defend herself if needed, this advice shifts the onus of ensuring one’s safety from men to women. Instead of asking men to not molest women, women are told they should defend themselves.

This advice fails on two counts- can any woman be expected to defend herself when harassed by more than one man, and what happens when the man is further enraged by a woman defending herself and attacks her with a weapon or acid. Both these cases are very probable, yet, that is the advice given to women by men with good intentions.

‘Play with known people or stay indoors’ – takes away women’s agency

Other men who have the “best interests of women at heart” advise women to either play within their societies, or to stay indoors. Many women, including me, have been molested within our housing societies and some have even been molested by family or close friends while playing in their own house. So the advice that women should only play Holi with people known to her is not sufficient to ensure her safety.

More importantly, why should women be pushed into gendered ghettos to stay safe? Shouldn’t the focus be on getting men to stop molesting women under the pretext of Holi, and not on locking women up? When women start abandoning public spaces, those spaces become even more dangerous for women. This ghettoization, therefore, is a vicious circle that takes away freedom of movement from women.

What about women who can’t afford to stay indoors?

Asking women to stay indoors is also an extremely privileged take. Not all women can afford to stay indoors. Women who work as domestic help or cooks often do not get a day off for Holi, and are vulnerable to harassment while going to work. The same is the case for most blue collar workers, especially daily wage earners. They cannot afford to stay indoors even if they want to, so it is incumbent on men to behave.

In a bid to distract attention, some men ask hypothetical questions like – “what do you want us to do- ban Holi?” No, we do not want to ban Holi. All we want is that men exercise restraint while playing Holi. Seek the express consent of the woman before you do anything to her, and be aware of how others are playing and call out any man who is causing discomfort. Neither of these is hard to do, and observing them will ensure Holi is a pleasant experience for everyone.

Image source: Darpan on Unsplash

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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