It’s Holi and I’m talking consent

For as long as I remember, I haven’t enjoyed Holi. Not that I think it’s wrong that people – big and small, get all rambunctious in their display of affection for each other one day of the year. They also happen to show this affection with generous amounts of color – wet and dry, organic and inorganic, water-soluble and non-water soluble, and in the end, it’s not even about color , but any form of substance including, but not limited to: mud, eggs, paint, tomatoes and other such that rank higher and higher in the vile index.

In all this, no one stops to ask if you are okay being the recipient of such affection. It is assumed that as Indians, we are all lovers of such orgies and affections and would be nincompoops to not partake of this grand gesture of our culture. Saying no is not even an option and even today, as schools and communities set about finding newer, eco-friendly ways to celebrate Holi and discuss at length the harmful effects of “bad colors”, consent is conveniently left out.

I dreaded Holi for the most part of my childhood, when my mother and I hid in the kitchen and bathroom when they came looking for us and sometimes we just gave in, because we feared they would break our doors. But we felt violated nonetheless. To me, it is often an example of bad touch and I wish more people would talk about it.

When I grew older, I found ways of escaping this revelry that usually involved a getaway to somewhere quiet. Once I found myself in the jungles of Dandeli , but turned out I hadn’t run far enough, as some revelers caught me.

I know that ‘consent’ in its various forms is just a recent addition to our vocabulary, and “no means no” somehow goes out the window when Holi arrives. It’s nice to know that hierarchies and boundaries dissolve on this glorious day, but what of people whose voices are not loud enough when they say no? How many times does one have to say no to be taken seriously? What of children too overwhelmed and tongue-tied by the sudden rowdiness of their ilk? What of body language that is often good enough for a no for those are too scared to protest when boundaries are crossed, when space feels violated but tongues are stuck? What of people big and small who cry hoarse but can’t be heard because, hell, who is listening when everyone is screaming “Holi hai”! And what is one child in a mob of children? Or one voice in a melee?

Because it turns out, even today, my kid is as much a minority as I was and feels violated every year on Holi, no matter what we do. Or don’t do.

But I don’t want us to spend the rest of our lives running away – from Holi, from noise, from people who don’t give a shit that other people, animals and plants bear the brunt of their excesses, and their sheer inability to comprehend that enough is enough.

And if that makes me antinational or anti-cultural, so be it.


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