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3-min read

'I Felt Helpless': Why These Women Don't Play Holi Anymore

The festival of colours is often the perfect garb for sexual predators, bullies and sociopaths to come out in the open and indulge in acts that would otherwise be termed illegal.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:March 21, 2019, 3:02 PM IST
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'I Felt Helpless': Why These Women Don't Play Holi Anymore
A still from the song 'Balam Pichkari' (Source: Screenshot/YouTube)

Shamvabee C, a school teacher from Kolkata, was barely ten years old when Holi became a nightmare for her. It was on the day of the festival that year when she was pinned to the ground by some boys while another a boy repeatedly attacked her with buckets of magenta-tinged water.

"It was a boy from my tuition. He enjoyed bullying me in public, made fun of my weight and bad results. He used Holi as a passive-aggressive method to settle scores," Shamvabee told News18.

"I was not given a chance to throw any colours at him. He had accomplices to help him pin me. I had none to help. That was my last Holi."

Hers is one of the many horror stories that together make up one of the darkest aspects of the festival of colours. For many, Holi is synonymous with hooliganism, groping and physical assault.

Nothing but a compendium of horrible words and memories.

Shamvabee said that even after she herself stopped participating in the festivities, the festival continued to cause her pain. "It's not just a menace for women. I grew up with a gay best friend. Every year, I watched him get humiliated on Holi," she said. Boys in the neighbourhood would make it a point to parade him around and be mean to him. "I could never stand it. But I was helpless," she said. After all, what could she do? Such behaviour is socially accepted on Holi.

The festival of colours is often the perfect garb for sexual predators, bullies and sociopaths to come out in the open and indulge in acts that would otherwise be termed illegal. Those who do not want to participate are instantly tagged as 'bores' or 'spoilt-sports' who cannot get with the spirit of a festival.

But for survivors like Shamvabee, the festival brings fresh trauma every year. Many have no option but to silently boycott the festivities and stick to the safety of shuttered windows and bolted doors.

"Isolation can be empowering. I stopped playing Holi when I was 15 because I was molested by a relative inside my own house. It happened in broad daylight, no one noticed. When I cried, my mother asked me to not act out and not disrespect my elders," Ananya (name changed) told News18. She ran away to her room and feigned a stomach ache for the rest of the day to keep away from the celebrations.

Today, Ananya is the mother of a young boy and hopes to be a better parent to her son. Her family does not know to this day why she suddenly developed an aversion to Holi, a festival she had always enjoyed previously. "It is what we teach the kids. If adults are out encouraging their kids to throw balloons from balconies at strangers because it's okay on Holi, what do we expect these kids to grow up to be?" she wondered.

So what do these people who boycott Holi do on the day of the festival? For Utsarjana Mutsuddi, a research assistant, it's just like any other day. "I catch up on some reading, do house chores. It's like any other day off."

Utsarjana too has not played Holi ever since she was aggressively egged on the neck by some revellers during her undergraduate degree. Though the whole world, including her friends, party on the day, Utsarjana now stays indoors.

"The culture of hooliganism and manufactured consent that is so ingrained in the festivities is a huge turn-off. It feels good to shut all of that out and celebrate one day, but to celebrate at the cost of personal space is not something I support, "she said.

The setting sun on Thursday will bring an end to yet another Holi. Many more stories such as Shamvabee's, Ananya's and Utsarjana's will be written to remain untold. The doors and shutters will be opened up and the anxiety and fear would reluctantly be allowed to filter out, only to be welcomed back the next year. With a splash of colour on the side.

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