Locked up for Holi

Michael Safi reports from Delhi:

As India’s raucous spring festival of Holi approached this year, a memo circulated among two women’s dormitories at the University of Delhi.

Undergraduate women would be locked inside the student halls from 9pm on Sunday until 6pm on Monday, it read – well after most Indians had finished smearing each other in dye, dancing or drinking from cups of bhang lassi, a milky cannabis-based concoction.

The decision of the hostels highlights a darker side to one of India’s most joyous festivals: as inhibitions decrease, many women say the street harassment endemic to Delhi life also surges.

And naturally the solution to that is to imprison the women. Literally imprison them for 21 hours. Literally imprison them during a festival that they might actually want to participate in (without being harassed or beaten up or raped, oddly enough).

“It’s a very sexualised thing. You get touched or hit on your buttocks or your breasts,” said Devangana Kalita, an activist and researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“There’s a particular targeting of women’s genital parts,” added Shristi Satyawati, who on Saturday tried to lodge a police case against a group of young men who pelted her with water balloons “on my breasts and bum”.

The police said they can’t do anything – it’s Holi.

Delhi police announced they had posted around 25,000 officers around the city to prevent hooliganism during the festivities.

Nonetheless, Delhi University’s two female dormitories were locked up for the day, along with several others across the city, to the chagrin of women’s and student’s groups.

“The men can remain free and roam about, but the women who are the supposed victims need to stay – it’s atrocious,” Naqvi said.

It’s lose-lose for women, isn’t it. They can have the burqa, or imprisonment, or sexual assault – those are the choices. Men can do whatever they like.

Rumblings have been growing against the tight curfews on women studying in Delhi’s student hostels and grew louder last week, when India’s minister for women, Maneka Gandhi tried to defend the restrictions.

“When you are 16 or 17 you are hormonally very challenged,” she said. “So to protect you against your own hormonal outbursts, perhaps a [boundary] is drawn.”

Pinjra Tod, a student group fighting against discriminatory rules for women’s hostels versus the men’s accommodation, said in a statement: “The rise in sexual violence and harassment that women experience around Holi is barely addressed. Instead, women are once again locked up for their ‘own safety’ with arbitrary restrictions.”

Oh well. I’m sure someone remembered to bring them food and water.

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