Holi is meant to be a joyous occasion awash with colour and happy revellers dancing to the dholak with indulgent elders looking on fondly. In real life, for many people, mostly women, Holi has become synonymous with fear. Today, Holi is a festival which gives many men a licence to harass women under guise of tradition and gaiety.
The harassment starts well in advance of the day with hapless women being forcibly smeared with colour in public places or being pelted with water balloons. Many Hindi films lend sexual overtones to the festival, the man aggressively applying colour on the reluctant woman. The colours used at one time used to be natural, washable ones but today toxic paints have replaced them in many places. The beauty of the festival is ruined for many by the sight of drunken predators on the streets looking to harass passers-by. Mobility for women is especially hampered as they are faced with hooligans on the road. Many environmental and women’s organisations have sought a total ban on colours containing harmful chemicals and much more stringent action against those found harassing people, mainly women. But, often under the garb of all this being part of the exuberance of the festival, offenders get away with such depredations. Drunken brawls and traffic offences are all now part of this day.
But this is not spoil Holi for everyone. There is much good news on this front. Schoolchildren in cities and towns are increasingly becoming more aware of environmental causes. They are the ones who have been shunning crackers made with child labour for Diwali, they are also pushing for natural colours on Holi. Many housing societies are also encouraging a waterless Holi in pursuit of conservation. We seem to have a knack of making our great festivals less enjoyable as the years go by. Diwali, once a gentle festival of lights, is today a high decibel, highly polluting occasion putting many people off and causing much discomfort to the elderly, young children and animals to name a few. Hopefully, as awareness grows, we can reclaim these festivals as genuine community-based celebrations, something to look forward to, not dread. And the effort must begin with each one of us. We wish all our readers a safe and happy Holi.