How to deal with sexual harassment on Holi
If you’re confused about whether or not you were sexually harassed, chances are you probably were.
The days leading up to Holi should be full of excitement and planning. It’s one of the biggest Indian festivals, after all. But instead, what many women feel is dread. In many cities and villages, the streets aren’t safe for women to begin with. But just before and during Holi, things can get much worse. Men think of the festival as a permission slip to touch women inappropriately - accosting them with colour on the roads and aiming water balloons at their breasts or genitals. And this harassment comes from all sides - from friends and creepy neighbour uncles to members of one’s own extended family. If you’re confused about whether or not you were sexually harassed, chances are you probably were. But to confirm, Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code states that “physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures” and “making sexually coloured remarks” constitutes sexual harassment. Demanding and requesting sexual favours and showing pornography against the will of a woman is also included in the law.
So this Holi, if you believe that you’re being sexually harassed, here’s how you can deal with the situation:
1. Don’t think you’re imagining it
It’s a time of celebration and you may even be surrounded by family and friends only. But when you feel an inappropriate touch, don’t downplay the action by thinking it’s only in your head or assuming that it was by mistake. Even if there is a celebration all around, personal space can - and should - be maintained. Also, in most cases, if you ignore sexual harassment, it is likely to continue and even get worse. Don’t think it’s not so bad because it was only a grope or caress - there is no degree of sexual harassment that should be acceptable. It is a punishable crime and should be treated as such.
2. Confront the harasser
The first priority is your health and safety. So while confrontation is an option, you should first judge the situation you’re in and whether it can become unsafe for you if you anger this person. If you’re alone and being harassed by a group of people, it might make more sense to escape the situation first and find safety. If you feel like there are enough people to back you up or there is a PCR or police control room van nearby, you can go ahead and confront this person, in a calm but firm manner. We know it’s a tough ask and many women tend to freeze when something like this happens. But if you can overcome the shock, do speak up and tell the person that what they did made you uncomfortable and they shouldn’t repeat it.
3. Tell your parents, friends or teachers
If it occurs at home or with family, talk to your parents about it. If it happens in school or college, report it to your teachers. Find your support group and tell them what has happened, especially if you need some strength to confront the person or report the incident. You can also reach out to a women’s welfare group and ask for help in dealing with the situation. You can visit http://ncw.nic.in/helplines for contact details of some women's support groups.
4. Report it to the police
Yes, sexual harassment is a crime and one can be fined and/or imprisoned for up to three years for it. Filing an FIR is completely up to you, though. If you decide you want to, knowing your rights will be helpful. If the prospect of going to the police station makes you nervous, you can first call the National Commission for Women helpline (1091), the Complaint and Investigation Cell (011-26944880/83) or a lawyer. If the harassment occurs in your workspace, you can report it to a member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).
5. Consult a mental health professional
Everyone deals with sexual harassment differently. Of course, many women are subjected to inappropriate behaviours so often that they don't consider seeking help for it. Instead, they focus on being more vigilant against attackers - especially at times like Holi. This is obviously exhausting - mentally and physically.
Additionally, a cultural bias towards placing the blame on the girl is so strong that reporting an infraction can seem pointless. This feeling of loss of safety and helplessness can take a serious toll on women's mental health and their confidence.
If you need help processing what happened, don’t hesitate in reaching out to a mental health professional.
For more articles like this, visit our section on Women’s Health.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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