Why "consent" should be taught to children during Holi
Now that the (colourful) dust of Holi is settling, I sit back and heave a sigh of relief. I can start going out without worry. No more water balloons. No more arguments with pre-teen and teenage boys who think it is "fun" to drench people in (what is hopefully) water.
Yesterday, as I was walking home through the neighbourhood park, I heard the excited laughter of young boys. My eyes immediately zeroed in on the telltale wet spots on the road. I looked up. And there they were. Perched on the second floor balcony of a swanky new apartment building. Five of them huddled up together.
“Throw that at me and I will come up there!” I shout. They seemed amused.
“Speak nicely. We are just having fun,” came the prompt reply.
“You can have fun with those who agree to have fun with you. I have not agreed. You never asked me,” I said to them, wondering at this bizarre exchange.
“We can’t ask everyone,” came the incredulous response.
“You should ask everyone. It’s called consent. Ask your parents about it,” I said back.
Surprisingly, they agreed and I was back on my way. My mind was rattling with thoughts about impressionable young boys, consent, and adult intervention.
There was no way that that many boys could be crammed onto a balcony without an adult knowing. No way that they could have been throwing water balloons at people without at least one older person being aware. So why do adults condone this behaviour?
In my early days in law school, I lived in the bustling neighbourhood of Lajpat Nagar in Delhi. Holi in Lajpat was like guerilla warfare. You don’t know what is going to hit you and where it is going to come from.
But one incident stuck with me. I was on a cycle rickshaw on the way to the market when a water balloon hit me smack on the back. I stop. As expected, the boys were on a balcony. (Till date, I have never seen girls indulging in this kind of ‘play’.)
I make a move to take the stairs to the balcony when I see him from the corner of my eye. An uncle. Peeping through the window. Clearly enjoying the spectacle.
Adult men encourage young boys to drench people, especially women, in water. Then, playing the peeping tom, they leer at the women. When asked to control their offspring, they cite helplessness. “Boys will be boys,” they say.
Boys. Uncle. Hooliganism during Holi is a male-centric activity. Young girls are neither invited nor expected to be a part of it. Older women passively watch from the sidelines. They rarely have a say in these male-dominated activities.
We are failing our young ones by not teaching them about boundaries and consent. We are also failing ourselves. Consent is not only needed in a sexual situation. Anything that involves entering someone’s personal space and touching someone else's physical self requires consent.
By not teaching boys that consent is needed (and its corollary – that women should expect to be asked for their consent), we are treading into dangerous territory.
We are teaching young boys that they can invade personal space in the name of ‘fun’. That they are entitled towards violating someone else’s bodily integrity.
In turn, young girls learn that they have no space or power to say no to being touched. That men can and will invade their personal space, and women can do nothing about it.
Holi, the festival of colour, is meant to be one of celebration. Winter makes way for spring. Cold for warmth. Death for life. Let us not kill it with molestation and hooliganism.
Young people are reasonable. They listen. The boys I spoke to yesterday agreed to ask for consent. They just needed to be taught.
Hopefully, a year will come when I will not need to cocoon myself from public spaces before and during Holi. A time when I won’t run straight from the house into a car. Then run straight from the car to the safe confines of a house party. And then do the reverse.
I am privileged enough to be able to have such a cocoon. We need to make Holi safer for women. The festival should incite excitement not fear.