Holi, India's traditional festival of colors, is now reporting a new kind of sexual harassment against women. File Photo
Holi, India's traditional festival of colors, is now reporting a new kind of sexual harassment against women. File Photo

Sexual harassment incidents in Delhi increased during India’s popular Hindu festival of colors known as Holi, traumatizing many young female college students.

During the last week of February, Holi is celebrated in many parts of India by people throwing colored powder and water at each other.

Female university students said they were scared to walk on streets near their colleges during Holi because they are hit by water balloons, mud or eggs.

On February 28,  an 18-year-old Delhi University student filed a complaint with police that she was hit by a liquid-filled balloon thrown by two people on a bicycle.

“The balloon hit me hard on my chest. I lost control and because of the pain, fell on the ground. By the time I composed myself, the persons had fled. The pungent stink from the liquid was unmistakably that of urine,” she said in her complaint.

Similar incidents were reported from various parts of Delhi.

This is a new low in a city that has seen shocking assaults on women with worrying frequency. The latest outrage during the Holi festival first appeared on an Instagram post authored by a college student.

“I went out with a friend for lunch yesterday to a café in Amar Colony market, which is near our college. It was about five in the evening when we decided to head back. Not a minute of our short Metro ride had passed when there came flying my way a liquid filled balloon of sorts, hitting me square in the hip, where it burst open, its contents seeping into my kurti and leggings. It dried white on my black leggings, and the foreign smell clearly indicated that it wasn’t water,” she wrote on February 26.

Amita Yadav, the college Student’s Union president, later told The Indian Express: “The police have been contacted and patrolling around the college has been increased.”

Harassment culture

Soon after the initial Instagram post, several others took to social media to share their experiences of balloon attacks.

Water balloons have been an integral part of Holi, India’s festival of colors, which has been celebrated for centuries. Dry powder colors or paint and water are splashed around by revelers as a part of the festival. But over the years women have been raising then alarm over sexual harassment during the festival.

“There are incidents where women are hit by balloons on their chests. It looks like they are deliberately targeting body parts,” a Delhi University student told Asia Times on the condition of anonymity. She is a member of the Women’s Development Cell at a college where a student was reportedly hit by a “semen-filled balloon” at a nearby market.

“We won’t even know how vast the scope of these incidents are since some victims feel embarrassed and don’t report them,” the WDC member said. She said there were reports of such incidents even before the Instagram post went viral.

Two days before Holi on March 2, two students filed complaints after being hit by balloons filled with a suspect liquid while walking in a nearby market. Authorities investigated and by late night the family of a girl gave a written apology to the students for throwing the balloons at them.

Once it was revealed that a girl was involved in the incident, people began to raise doubts about some of the women’s claims. However, for many women, sexual harassment during the festival is real and they believed the social media claims were true.

Rapes and sexual harassment has been a major issue in India for decades. While a November 2017 report on crime in India shows that crimes against women across the country marginally decreased between 2014 and 2016, the crime rate against women increased by 8% in metropolitan cities in the same period. India’s capital city, Delhi, ranked as the worst city for women, in terms of safety.

A closer look at the data by IndiaSpend revealed that between 2006-2016, crimes against women went up 83%, while the conviction rate hit a 10-year low. Clearly, the police have been unsuccessful in deterring perpetrators.

Police Sub Inspector Manoj Solanki, who is posted near the women’s college, said authorities had issued prohibitory orders to deter attacks during the festival.

“Anyone throwing water, balloons or anything else at people in the market will be prosecuted,” he said. At times derisively referred to as India’s “rape capital”, the latest reports of harassment during the festival continues to traumatize women on the streets of Delhi.

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