Balloon menace: Jesus and Mary College students protest against Holi hooliganism outside Police Headquarter

Several protests against hooliganism during Holi were organized today in different parts of Delhi. The women students of Jesus and Mary College, concerned teachers and activists of Centre for Struggling Women (CSW) today held a protest at Delhi Police Headquarters seeking stringent measures against a grave problem that erupts during the festival of Holi, i.e. rampant hooliganism and sexual harassment of women across Delhi-NCR.

A delegation of concerned students and teachers also met and submitted a memorandum to Joint Commissioner of Police in order to streamline the measures for ensuring safety of women during Holi. Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Madhur Verma later came out and addressed the gathering of teachers and students and assured them of taking every needful step to fulfill the demands mentioned in the memorandum. Concerned teachers and women activists also addressed the gathering of women students on the issues faced by women during Holi.

It is to be noted that recently in many parts of Delhi the occasion of Holi has been misused to physically assault women and young girls with semen-filled balloons and condoms. On 28th February a student of Jesus and Mary College, and before that a student of Lady Shri Ram College were targeted in this extreme manner. There are also several complaints of women becoming victims of forcefully thrown colours, dirt and water-filled balloons. While such hooliganism is borne by the public at large, it is women who are particularly targeted, and on whose complaints little action is taken. The situation is so bad in Delhi-NCR, that women are compelled to stop stepping out of their homes for school, college, work, etc. as the festival nears.

For a good ten days before the actual date of the festival, women are particularly targeted by lumpen elements. The various forms of assault are supposedly part of the ‘festive’ mood surrounding Holi, but more often than not, such attacks stem from desire to harass women. The attacks reflect a mindset that women are ‘easy’ targets because they generally do not speak out or complain due to fear or the embarrassment and shock attached to such sudden assaults.

The element of sexualized intent is often reflected in such attacks in the manner in which water/dirt-filled balloons are thrown on sensitive parts of the woman’s body, and in the manner in which Holi processions (comprising of men) target places where women are concentrated. In the case of latter, it is a well known fact that in reputed educational institutions that every year in the University of Delhi (DU), North Campus, a procession of drunk DU male hostellers takes over the streets and deliberately stops outside the different DU women’s hostels, wherein sexist slogans are raised and obscene gestures are made against the women hostellers. Policemen, surprisingly, accompany the procession rather than preventing it from taking place.

The fact that tardy or little action is taken by the Delhi Police against those indulging in such activities has further fueled such rampant hooliganism. Very often when PCR vans respond to desperate phone calls made by victims of such assaults, the police personnel usually end up trying to negotiate a compromise rather than take strict action against those accused.

Ultimately, advertisements and hoardings asking people to play ‘consensual’ Holi is completely ineffective on the ground. Hooligans target public transport, vulnerable pedestrians, and women across the board. Hence, a more stringent and proactive approach is the need of the hour. Preventive measures and timely action on complaints raised by harassed women is essential to curb hooliganism associated with this festival.

The memorandum has requested following measures from the Police Commissioner:

·         Greater patrolling by the police during the coming week and on the day of the festival,

·         Prevention by the police of unruly Holi processions as such activity holds the streets to ransom and severely limit women’s mobility,

·         Issuing of a strong directive to Delhi University to prevent Holi processions carried out by its male hostellers,

·         Issuing of a directive to Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) to instruct drivers and conductors to inform the police of miscreants who forcefully play Holi inside buses and harass women commuters,

·         Issuing of a strong directive to Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWAs) and local authorities to actively discourage Holi-related hooliganism and harassment of women,

·         Issuing of a strong directive to all police stations in Delhi to file all complaints and take action against those accused of hooliganism.

·         Recommend a ban on the sale of balloons in the Delhi-NCR prior to Holi,

·         Recommend a ban on the sale of harmful chemical colours, which cause much bodily harm.