What ruins festivals like Holi and Diwali for most Indians

Behind the playful mask of the supposedly innocent revelry is the ugly face of collective imposition and non-consensual sexual overtures.

 |  6-minute read |   02-03-2018
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Whether it is noise pollution or any other kind of invasion of privacy during social functions, the answer that revellers invariably come up with is: Why take offence? This (occasion) comes only once a year.

The cliché "bura na maano Holi hai" is a similar excuse couched in a disarming manner even though regressive enough to get away with harassing people. Behind the playful mask of the supposedly innocent bacchanalian revelry of this ancient festival is the ugly face of collective imposition, non-consensual sexual overtures that are supposed to be “just fun”, outright molestation, bullying and sheer sadism that has traumatised and scarred generations with violence, both overt and covert.

Holi, the festival of colour, which was at one time in the distant past celebrated with harmless natural organic colours, has been for quite some time celebrated with harmful synthetic powders containing toxic metals or dyes that can cause skin allergies, rashes or even blindness in people and animals.

Animals can easily inhale the powder, which can cause nasal irritation and respiratory allergies or infections. Animals that ingest it while grooming themselves can suffer from stomach ailments or other illnesses or even die. Drinking water coloured by the powder can also cause hair loss and dermatitis in dogs.

But that is not where it ends. The more inventive recipe for “sanskari” fun includes balloons filled with stones (which have taken their toll in blindness and head trauma over the years in commuters), drain sludge, battery acid - and recently in a twist only the most severely mentally challenged and depraved could come up with, water balloons filled with “semen”. The recent case of a student of Lady Shri ram College for Women, Delhi University, who was attacked with “semen-filled” balloons as she was going back to her hostel after having lunch with a friend. The depraved attack on the student has the social media in uproar.  After her Instagram post went viral, many other women came out and shared similar experiences.

holi_030218044638.jpgPhoto: Reuters

Recent reports would suggest that this could be urban legend, and the balloons are filled with shampoo and other substitutes meant to look like the real thing. But even so, the mindset that would indulge in such an act and the intent behind it is horrifying.

This is not the first case of its kind. It has been going on for some years now but people seem to have woken up only recently after the Instagram post. Women, especially the women of northern India, spend most of their energy on these days in dodging “sperm” and water-filled condoms, rotten eggs, colour thrown from unseen corners, groping and much more.  This is not a communal festival. This is early training in the life lesson of how to be a criminal. If one is trivialising these acts with a wink and a nod while one’s children are attacking strangers and at the same time telling the women in one’s family to cover up to escape such criminal elements, one is not only making one’s own children part of a vicious cycle of crime and victim-blaming but something far more sinister and perverse.

Exactly what lies behind the psychology of someone who goes to great lengths to prepare such balloons and throw it at women? It is an aggressive physical act similar to molestation or rape in that it makes a power statement of dominance over the victim.

Like one of the most primeval acts of marking territory, it is stamping the imprimatur of one’s own physicality on another person, thus making her “inferior” and subservient to one’s will. It is in the most fundamentally invasive way, literally “outsourcing” one’s sexual desires, a substitute of the actual act of coitus sans intimacy from a distance. Flashers do it and those indulging in frotteurism in crowds do it.

The recent case of a man alighting from his car and masturbating in front of a well-known Marathi TV actress in Mumbai illustrates this phenomenon perfectly.  In pornographic parlance “paying tribute” means ejaculating onto photographs of nude women who are objects of fantasy, an extreme expression of objectification.
This kind of sexually deviant behaviour is typical of a recessive personality who would find it difficult to form real word intimacies and comes from a patriarchal background that discourages openness, familiarity and understanding between the sexes.

He would look for substitutes in aggressive behaviour to remain relevant in the anonymity he finds himself in. His choice of victim would be a non challenging one - someone from a lower caste or class, a minor, or, as in the case of our Holi perpetrator, a random woman in a crowd far below his balcony.

Whether it is Holi, Diwali, or Navratri or any other festival where collectivism tramples over the rights of the individual, the idea of mutual consent is alien to Indians. Indeed, the idea of consent is what ruins celebrations for many Indians.

When the very spirit of our festivals have been corrupted beyond measure, exactly what place do traditional festivals like holi occupy in the urbanised sprawls of modern India?

Huge bonfires on street corners ostensibly to burn the demoness Holika, smoke belching out and adding to the already dangerous and unacceptable levels of suspended particulate matter that we have in the air.

Firewood for this ritual has been obtained by chopping down the limbs of trees indiscriminately from diminishing forest covers and green lungs.

We live in a time of dwindling resources. Our green cover is shrinking at an alarming rate with the frequent incursions of building contractors and real estate developers aided by a corrupt government that looks the other way.

The levels of our water tables are plummeting as demands increase to accommodate the multiplying high rises and the millions that throng to our cities from the hinterlands each year. Yet thousands of litres of water are wasted on Holi in a shameless display of profligacy.

Can we afford outdated practices and ritualistic gestures that have no place in society today - that harm the environment further?

Shouldn’t our value systems evolve to meet living and breathing reality? What religion is this that does not offer its followers a decent standard of life?

What manner of spirituality shorn of sensitivity and empathy guides us all on a suicidal course to a nemesis that will eventually claim both the devout and the non-believer?

The irony of the ritual should not escape us. From destroying the symbol of evil and darkness, we have regressed to destroying the resources that sustain us, unleashed full-blown perversity from our blackest depths, and thus turned a full circle.

Also read: Who is responsible for Sridevi’s death?

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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