How to tackle the dark spectre of Holi hooliganism on campuses

PTI3_1_2018_000190B Delhi University students hold placards and raise slogans demanding safety ahead of holi festival celebrations outside PHQ in New Delhi on Thursday | PTI

Muck, grease, rotten tomatoes, eggs, cow dung, urine, and now semen. Welcome to the world of Holi hooliganism. Just a day after it was reported that a student from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi was pelted with a semen-filled balloon, another student from Jesus and Mary College took to social media to report a similar encounter in a bus on her way home from college: "Before I even realised it, a guy threw a balloon filled with semen straight at my chest. For a few minutes I was just shocked and by the time I recovered from it, he and his friends were gone. I was disgusted and really furious. And that’s when a lady sitting in front of me said, Beta, bura mat mano Holi hai [don't feel bad, it is Holi]. Others in the bus laughed and said the same to me. I didn’t know whom to be more disgusted about—the idiot who threw it or the crowd that normalised it," she wrote on Facebook.

Over the last two days, Delhi has seen two separate protest marches in the city to condemn such repulsive acts. Incidents of sexual harassment in and around colleges intensify around the time of Holi, but the semen-flinging incidents have sparked outrage. One such protest march by Pinjra Tod, an autonomous collective for protecting the rights of women students in Delhi University, was aptly titled Bura kyun na mano?, questioning the oft-quoted excuse for rowdyism—Bura na mano Holi hai

Students are actively denouncing the methods employed to ensure safety in the run-up to the festival. Increasing police patrols and entrusting the task of gender-sensitisation programs on law-enforcement is not the answer, they say. Also, increasing security in the form of surveillance and CCTV cameras is counter-productive. They are demanding the establishment of quasi-judicial bodies like Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs), as law has its own limitations. "We don't want this kind of false protectionism. In the name of protecting women, you end up increasing police and state apparatus within the university space. What we are demanding is that there be more street lights, active elected ICCs, which actually don't exist as it was mandated in the University Grant Commission (UGC) Regulations of 2015,"says Avantika Tewari, a member of Pinjra Tod. 

UGC Regulations 2015 on Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions requires all colleges in DU to install autonomous ICCs with elected student and staff representatives. One of the measures also mandates that the ICC hold gender sensitisation programs and mount publicly noticeable hoardings announcing numbers one can call to lodge complaints of harassment. Only three DU colleges (Miranda House, Ramjas, and Hindu) have held elections for ICCs. Last month, Delhi University asked all colleges to conduct ICC elections by March 12. 

Unruly kids too are a part of the problem; such is the extent of normalisation of harassment in public spaces around the time of Holi. In this "festival of colours" to be enjoyed with people you know and trust, it just so happens that one can express disgust and raise concerns when it is a semen-filled balloon, but not when balloons filled with water are flung indiscriminately on vulnerable groups like women, the elderly or even stray dogs. "It's not about the grotesque nature or the kind of a balloon it was, but precisely how normalised it is for men to actually have fun at the expense of women and also not factor in hierarchies which are constantly at work. It's gendered and racialised. This kind of underpinning of caste, race and gender determines what the nature of fun would be,” says Tewari. 

For college students living in or around campuses, Holi has become a harrowing conundrum: The choice is between following strict hostel rules and stay locked up in rooms or face abuse or surveillance on the streets."When you raise concerns for safety, you end up justifying and legitimising your own caging in a way," says Tewari. The bare minimum that can be done to address the problem holistically is to make colleges follow the 2015 UGC guidelines, she believes. The onus is on universities to ensure a hassle-free Holi for students.