By Pratishtha Dobhal
I didn’t have a colourful Holi of the soul this year. It wasn’t colored with life and abundance, but stained by my present. Festivals are an excuse to celebrate some good in a world peppered with terror. An anomaly for most of us trained to expect the worst. For a day however, you are meant to put aside headlines and breaking news and focus on celebrating good over evil. Functionally Holi challenged, it didn’t feel I could celebrate uninhibitedly with fear as my constant companion this year. Fear of the consequences borne out of the choices I make. Holi started late. Drenched in colour and water after an hour of playing with friends and relatives, we decided to go on a walking trail. Wishing people we met along the way, putting colour, trusting the relatively unknown, and embracing the unfamiliar yet comfortable. I remember how things were like a decade ago. It was a mohalla/colony/apartment complex holi where the community of residents would walk around rubbing colour on one another, respectfully. We’ve stopped doing that nowadays. Farm house parties and technological refinement has made Holi an event. It has evolved over time. This year, it is accompanied by a gnawing, uncomfortable feeling. I feel trapped between fear and joy. Joy, at the excitement this festival has traditionally evoked; fear, at how this festival may end. 6th of March’ 2015 has now been reduced to an examination of Holi on the streets of South Delhi. The ‘how-it-felt’ while covering one sector in Vasant Kunj to another sector just three kilometers away. As we got our holi survival kit ready and headed out, the boys were unnaturally wary and protective. The ratio of boys to girl in each holi group we spotted ranged between 3:6. A far cry from 1:6, we had earlier presumed. I was doing a holi trail after a long time but it didn’t explain the heaviness of the nerves I felt. I knew it was going to be a strange day. When a few cars filled with boys passed by I felt anxious. When a few more zipped past us, I felt a sense of urgency overwhelm me. Before the cars would come back for a spin, the boys and girls negotiated with the auto guy to take us to our trail spots. It didn’t seem safe risking a walk to cover the rest of the distance. Within minutes, the few good men had to take a stand. Put a restraint on their unknown male counterparts and safely dictate us girls into a box. I was filled with fearful submissiveness. The lead by the men seemed patriarchal and protective. I, however, craved for the warmth and freedom which my mother gave me. It seemed now like she was championing bigger causes. The right to equal footage and taking the lead fearlessly. Irony weighs heavy. Mother India’s daughter, has little to be happy about. She hasn’t been for sometime now. History and mythology has been rich with examples of the place a woman should hold in society. She has been endlessly told what to do, and what not to do. My ancestors and those who have read the scripts tell me a woman was once considered to be the equivalent of a man. Afterall, there was a reason why there were gods and goddesses. Interpretation and subjective limitation has changed the course of what history we know as all encompassing. We forget how filtered it has become over the years. A lot has been lost in translation and in putting out abridged and unabridged versions of it. Every regime, dictator, and ruler has tried to influence the annals of history. When they have failed, or are shamed of what atrocities have been documented, they have decided to write their own. Tweak, tame, and take control. The Ban on India’s Daughter is the beginning of the end. It is above politics, religion, region, economics, caste, colour, or culture. It’s about us. The dichotomy of us. It’s about gender. It’s about injustice, and the annihilation of conscience and humanity. Banning India’s Daughter will achieve nothing. The documentary is neither evil, nor voyeuristic– it is an unbiased documentation of POVs (point of views). It is about the events that took place on 16th December, 2012, and Jyoti Singh. How a night out could lead to an uprising by a nation. It’s a look at what we as women are still fighting for. Equal wages seem like a distant dream. Little has changed. Equality seems a distant dream as we stand fighting for the right to be acknowledged as living, breathing, thinking individuals. Because surely, what the men did to 23-year Jyoti couldn’t possibly be human/ acceptable/natural? Her pride could not be so easily rattled by prejudice against her. It wouldn’t/shouldn’t have in a civil society. In a country often referred to as Mother India, how could the daughter meet such a fate? The lawyers defending the rapists, couldn’t possibly be living and breathing specimens of a reckless, barbaric thought process? Are we living amongst men like them who are allowed to condone rape and murder? Does everyone, no matter how sick they are, be allowed reformation? Should their living spread the epidemic and virus of their sickness? No. I will not accept it. I will continue trying to change you, because I will not accept the will of the few. I request a change in your attitude towards me and the women of your country. I am writing in the hope that when you stumble upon this, you don’t reduce this to a rant or a meltdown. I expect nothing but a promise to allow me the fortune of freedom I crave in earnest. I was not a believer in celebrating relationships (father’s day/mother’s day–I celebrate them everyday in various measures), but the events that have taken place in the past few days call for time-out. Of celebrating being a woman fearlessly. I want irreverence to be acceptable, and ‘I’ to come before you. I hope you don’t curfew my hours on the street post nightfall. I hope my father doesn’t call to tell me it’s not safe. I hope you don’t find it necessary to convince me that because your male counterparts can’t be civil I have to restrict my freedom and movement. I also hope that my clothes don’t become news-hour highlight and my body isn’t reduced to a commodity. Can you respect the request of not putting a ban on me? I know you’ll probably think I am being over-dramatic, but I am not. You could challenge me on how you give me some freedom, but can you give me fully, functional freedom? If yes, then try and watch that documentary if you haven’t seen it already. Men who have seen the documentary are shocked and disgusted at not just the barbaric brutality of the crime but the things said by the defense lawyers of the rapists. The ban is inconsequential to those who respect women, to those who are nurtured in the bitterness and control of patriarchy this could possibly be an eye-opener. Denying access to it, is denying access to reality and facts as they stand today. It’s not white man’s supremacy or propaganda. Rape and abuse of women is a global reality. A reality which goes beyond boundaries. Our reaction to the reality of what we all came face-to-face with shouldn’t perturb you so much to ban it. By covering a crime scene, you cannot deny the crime. When the access to a woman’s space is trespassed every single day, why should you ban access to the documentation of people who were a part of that day, whose lives were forever altered? Those who haven’t seen it, may be forced to start questioning; Questioning templates of tolerance and justice. Jyoti’s intestines came out as a result of the severity and brutality of the rape. It shook me as it shook the rest of the country/world. A juvenile involved in the rape shall be out this December. Should you sit as coolly in the aftermath of this brutality as you are? No. And yes, No means No. It doesn’t mean anything more than ‘not wanting, wishing, or hoping’. A woman is not just a daughter, a mother, or a wife, she can be a lover, a girlfriend, and a friend. And despite the labels you will give her and the boxes you will put her in, she will conform when she ‘wants’ to. Recognize that want. I want an India and a world where the men will tell their sons that they need to treat a woman as an equal. In the meantime you choose your India, while I’ll try to build mine.