Gender & Identity, Life

Holi used to be my favorite holiday – until it was ruined for me when I turned 12

I didn’t realize back then just how badly it had affected me.

Trigger warning: Descriptions of eve-teasing and mentions of harassment.

Holi is a festival of colors. It’s supposed to be a day of celebration and happiness, but instead, it’s been ruined and the meaning has been lost in translation as it increasingly becomes a nightmare for a lot of women.

The Hindu festival originally signifies the end of evil and is supposed to be a day of thanksgiving and good harvest for the pending spring, as well as a festival to rejoice with family and friends. But the way it’s been demonized today, where people use it as an excuse to ignore consent and get away with whatever they want, has completely destroyed the experience for a lot of us.

I was 12 when I last played Holi. 

I’m 21 today and I have no intentions of playing Holi ever again. 

It was that year when a boy my own age started throwing water balloons at me on Holi and would find any and every excuse he could to be able to put color on me. He wasn’t my friend and I categorically told him that I wasn’t comfortable with this, but he didn’t stop. I realized then that people had no respect for my personal space and my boundaries all because “Bura na maano Holi hai!” (Don’t get offended because it’s Holi).

This basically meant that I wasn’t allowed to be uncomfortable if strangers touched me and took advantage of this festival of colors to invade my personal space and forget that consent exists.

And that was the last time I played Holi.

I didn’t realize back then just how badly it had affected me until every following year someone would ask me why I stopped playing Holi after 2009.

I realized more and more, every year, that the festival was no longer associated with fun, happiness, and color for me. When I thought about it, I felt uncomfortable and restless and I instantly wanted to distract myself.

This is the Holi of today. 

And instead of getting better, it gets worse. Women were hit with semen-filled water balloons this year.

To top it off, there have been countless incidents this year alone where women were attacked by hoards of men with water balloons and color and so badly, that it got violent and they were left with injuries on various body parts.

I don’t step out of the house two days in advance every year Holi comes because people don’t know their limits. I don’t intend on putting myself through it again – not even remotely. It’s a risk I’m not willing to take for the sake of my own well-being, especially when I know that these people will get away with it in the name of “fun.”

More often than not, women are forced into celebrating with strangers even when they don’t want to play. Many men take advantage of the tradition of drinking “bhang” (an edible preparation of cannabis consumed on Holi as part of the celebrations) to spike the drink with roofies and other drugs. Women often find themselves being touched inappropriately and being taken advantage of, under the guise of a so-called celebration of colors and happiness.

Holi is a festival that’s supposed to symbolize the end of evil. 

Instead, it perpetuates so much evil all because we live in a society where anything goes if it’s fun – for men, that is. Consent, respect, boundaries, basic human decency – all these things go out the door because it’s Holi.

I probably should be missing it, but in reality, I really don’t.