India’s festival of colors leave women fearful of abuse
By Mikaela Viqueira
New Delhi, Mar 7 (EFE).- Women in the Indian capital of New Delhi eye the arrival of Holi – the Hindu festival of colors set to be held on Wednesday in most parts of India – with fear and apprehension as it often serves as a license for abuse in the midst of revelry and consumption of intoxicants.
Amid a festive atmosphere, full of music, dancing and spraying of colors, the expression in Hindi “Bura na mano, Holi hai,” which translates to “Don’t mind, it is Holi,” serves as an excuse for young boys to harass girls in neighborhoods.
As revelers – often under the effect of alcohol and bhang, a drink made of milk and cannabis – wander around spraying colored water, women remain apprehensive of strangers invading their personal space and inappropriately touching or groping them.
In India, a country with mostly deep patriarchal roots, such behavior rarely invites societal disapproval or backlash especially on this occasion.
This has forced many women to celebrate the festival, which marks the arrival of spring, within their homes or neighborhoods, and only accompanied by family or friends.
“It won’t be too comfortable to go alone out of the house if a friend stays far away. I would prefer going there with my brother or someone,” Bhawna Kashyap, a 21-year-old from New Delhi, told EFE.
In some states such as Bihar in the north, “the environment is not safe for women,” said Shruti Kumari, another young woman who was in the Indian capital with her family on a holiday.
“If we go out to celebrate (in Bihar), they pass lewd comments. The girls do not dare to step out on the day of Holi there. There are only boys outside and the girls are not allowed. If girls go out, there are high chances of misbehavior with them,” she said.
Multiple reports of street harassment and sexual abuse, already normalized in the south Asian country during one of its biggest holidays, has prompted the authorities to tighten measures to ensure women’s safety.
In 2019, the Delhi Police formed a squad of 50 female security officers who, during Holi, would patrol areas frequented by women to ensure their safety.
Despite the efforts of the authorities, in some parts Holi celebrations go too far. In 2021, a 60-year-old woman was beaten to death in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of drunk men who entered her home.
This year, Holi coincides with International Women’s Day, which symbolizes a struggle for equality in this nation of more than 1.4 billion inhabitants, where gender violence and discrimination is fairly common.
Unlike the men, women “don’t go out and meet (and play Holi with) unknown people,” stressed Gulshan Mehta, a businessman in New Delhi, reflecting the gap between the two genders during one of the largest festivals in the south Asian country. EFE