Holi. The Festival of colors. The Hindu celebration of good overcoming evil, of the arrival of spring and the ending of winter. A big day in India: people are out in the streets partying and dancing and laughing and throwing gulal (natural powder color) at each other…a pretty fun and happy scenario right? Not for me! I can honestly say that Holi was one of the most horrible experiences of my life.
I’m going to piss a few people off with this post, it’s inevitable, so let me start by saying that i LOVE India and Indian People. I have many friends from India and I owe a lot of my personal growth to this incredibly beautiful and diverse country. This is not about India, this is not about men, this is about how a few men behave and how it feels to be a woman around that behavior. Keep this in mind when you read what follows!
I was in Varanasi during Holi. It was my last day there and I had a flight to catch that night. I was on assignment for an agency, the assignment was to document the festival. Since it’s always very romanticized by the media I was expecting a super fun and eclectic experience (and naively i thought the colors were made of natural ingredients like turmeric and such).
When a few days earlier, back in Delhi, I told my friend Ruchie I was going to be out in the streets for Holi she warn me not to do it. She didn’t get into details but she said ” People get really rowdy, stay inside!”. I thought she was exaggerating and being overprotective (I’m tiny!) so I smiled and didn’t give it much thought.
The closer it got to Holi the more people told me I should stay inside so I started worrying a bit, but I had an assignment to complete and work is work. The day before the festival I met a very nice British guy and he said he’ll be out by the Gaths and to text him if I was out on my own, I felt a million times better!
The morning of Holi I was ready to go out in the streets of Varanasi on my own but the owner of my guesthouse, a guy my age, invited me to go with him and some other guests to celebrate on a friend’s rooftop. I wrapped my camera in as many plastic bags I could and went with them. I was ready to get covered in colors but I was absolutely not ready for what was coming…
The moment we stepped outside it was like being in a war-zone where bullets were replaced by water: kids everywhere shooting at you with their water guns in the narrow alleys (water mixed with color), guys throwing water bombs from their windows and balconies, people smearing gulal on your face, more kids pooring buckets on your head. At some point I’m pretty sure I had gasoline sprayed on me…Madness! but it was cool, it was kind of fun.
We get to the friend’s rooftop and it’s just a bunch of foreigners throwing more water at each other. I can’t stay here, that’s not the kind of pictures the agency wanted from me—they wanted pictures of locals covered in powder colors—so I convince a few guys I just met to head out to the main gaths with me.
When we got there I didn’t notice anything strange at first. The kids were all gone and now the crowd was made mainly by adults. Most of my attention was on my camera, I was worried it would get damaged so I was very focused trying to shoot without getting it ruined. The situation is pretty intense now!
I want to meet up with the British guy but I can’t even take my cellphone out, Everything happens fast, there’s people and water and powder coming from every direction, everything is hectic and overwhelming. After a few minutes we’re out there a group of happy—and clearly wasted—teenage boys approach us and starts hugging everyone. I’m not in hugging mood but it’s a holiday and I don’t want to be rude. I get two hugs and the guys smear some powder on my face. I smile and let the 3rd guy hug me and….BAM! he grabs my boob!
I did not see that coming and I am a bit confused. I get him off me and give him a “wtf?” dirty look and walk past him. I’m pretty fucking annoyed, but I think the kid just has his hormons going and I let it go.
Another group of guys—this time they look like they’re in their 30s—approches as and the hugging and smearing begins. One of the guys comes hugging me and….BAM! He grabs my ass!
WTF is going on here?!
At this point I’m not only confused, I’m pissed! I look around and suddenly I notice…there are no women out! the only women I see are westerns…
I turn around and… BAM! another guy grabs my boobs and in a ninja move manages to get my ass too.
Now I understand what’s going on and I know I need to get the fuck out of there. I put my camera away and I tell one of the guys with me that I’m leaving. He comes with me. It’s about a 900 meters walk from there to my guesthouse and BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! My poor boobs and ass get grabbed and squeezed by at least another 20 man in the meanwhile.
There was just no escaping it, too many people everywhere. Even if i had my arms crossed on my chest men where still coming for it. By the end of it I was throwing punches and screaming like a maniac “Fuck you motherfucker!” to anyone that came near me.
I get to my guesthouse. I’m pissed. Like…really, really pissed!
I keep thinking “You don’t see me(or any woman on earth) grabbing strangers’ dicks left and right so why do I have to endure that sort of behavior on my own body??”
I throw away my clothes and take the longest shower of my life. I’m trying to wash away the color but also the bitter feeling of disgust and resentment that’s eating me up. I grab a towel and wrap it around my still stained body. I look in the mirror, my hair’s still pink—it will be pink for 6 months as apparently some of the colors weren’t natural but pure dye!—and I am still pissed beyond imaginable.
It’s not just the ass grabbing that pissed me off it’s something bigger than that. It’s knowing I’ll be called a bitch and a prude when I’ll say how pissed I am. It’s knowing that many people will say “you shouldn’t have been out” instead of “You should be pissed”. It’s knowing that in 2017 there are still people that think women are not entitled of deciding what they want to do with their body and who they want to be touched by…
Later that afternoon my driver comes pick me up to go to the airport. The alleys are quiet now, no kids out, just a few people cleaning the the streets that are wet and red from the gulal, making it look even more like a war went on.
During the car ride I can’t help but reliving what happened in my head. I think of how unfair it is that because a few men behave like chauvinistic pieces of shit, the reputation of all men (and of a whole country in this case) gets compromised; of how important it is for women to speak up when situations like this one happen; and of how much work there is to do to get even near achieving gender equality.
I end up meeting the British guy at the airport, he was also leaving that night. We talk about our experiences, obviously his was very different from mine, no one grabbed his ass of course, the worst thing that happened to him was to be ‘forced’ to dance. I tell him how pissed I am. “You should write about it” he said. And he’s right, I should!
It took me 6 months before I found the courage to type these words. I was scared to look like the “victim type”, I was scared to be attacked by the usual ignorant haters online but above all I was scared to hurt the reputation of good people that have nothing to do with the kind of behavior described above.
Holi is a beautiful, joyful, colorful celebration, but there’s a dark side to it. The media don’t talk about it, but they should. Because many people are clueless about this dark side and because it’s only by speaking up that things can change.
And this sort of behavior—among many other things involving the way women are treated—HAS to change!
P.S. If you find this article useful please share it!
-If you read my blog for a while, you know I’m not a “whiny clueless little girl”. Because of my job and my lifestyle I find myself in tough situations often. I can handle some roughness, I don’t get scared easily…I had guns pointed at my face before for fuck sake! So this is not me whining, this is me addressing an issue that requires attention.
-Not all men that are out playing Holi behave disgustingly. There were a ton on men that were just celebrating minding their own business, treating others peacefully and with respect. A few bad apples can compromise the reputation of a whole country unfortunately.
-A lot of men get really really drunk or high af over Holi so obviously that contributes in making things worst for girls.
-Apparently Varanasi is one of the roughest city to be in for Holi. There are many more peaceful places to experience it and i can’t say it enough, what happened to me doesn’t happen everywhere.
-Many people celebrate it privately, with friends and family instead of going out in the streets.
-Holi in Nepal is a different experience.
-This is not an invitation to avoid India, I STRONGLY recommend to anyone man or woman to visit India, it’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen. I go back once a year.
-The reason I’ve added all this disclaimers is to avoid useless and ignorant attacks from people telling me I am a racist or a man-hater or any other stupid insult (after what happened with my article Instagram created a monster I am way too used to haters!) I didn’t write these disclaimers to justify myself or my points. I wrote them because I don’t want to wake up tomorrow having to sort through a gazzillion pointless hate emails. I just don’t want anyone to waste my time, since I already don’t have enough of it as it is 🙂
There is no justification of any kind for sexual harassment period.