<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans%3A400italic%2C700italic%2C400%2C700">Indian folklore Archives « Aam JanataSkip to content

This post is based on a long series of tweets and conversation on Twitter based on yesterday's article about how there is disproportionate paranoia about safety of women at the hands of Govindas participating in the dahi handi.

India has lost touch with what celebrating Indians sound like till it is all a rowdy threat. Sad that men being loud is seen as a threat.

There are no news reports with dahi handi and molestation/harassment. Over years too. While not reporting routine harassment is common in India, there appear to be no incidents serious enough to be reported at least. Which is more than what can be said about routine days. So if women give dahi handi some special exemption that they don't give world cups and ganesh visarjans (which have abundant reports of molestation) they have to stop and complain. Your safety cannot be considered under threat if no threat to it is reported. Or you have to face that there is relative safety for women that we refuse to recognize in favor of a paralyzing paranoia of claiming public space (while also lampooning anyone who tells them to be careful).

Ganesh visarjan, yes. Drunk and disorderlys in processions are commmon. Holi too. In contrast, dahi handi is a fairly safe crowd by virtue of highly disciplined activity, standing audience (as opposed to anonymous passings). Highly recommend that all the women who get harassed please file complaints with name of group (conveniently printed on clothes and truck). Staying home because Govindas harass is no answer, even if there were countless reports (which is NOT the case).

One person on Twitter reported an attempt by some drunk Govindas to harass a woman in an auto with him, and he and the crowd at large intervened. Hardly the picture of rowdy crowds groping at women unchecked. Does not appear to have succeeded or a police case filed.

BTW, what about women in audience cheering and whistling at Govindas? I know several who do it. Done it myself. Also danced to band baja. For that matter, I also enjoy Ganesh visarjans, though girls do get targeted by drunks then. Still, the dancing is good fun. Wait. worse. I have unashamedly looked at virile male bodies demonstrating their physical ability. Shouted comments. Dang. Imma hooligan 😀 Wondering how I can curb these immoral tendencies. Wait. I'm a woman. Flaunting my boldness is hep. Thank God. I would hate to be a man and guilty by default if my acting freely offended someone.

I just want to state that men being hooligans is their freedom of speech as long as they don't assault / vandalize. Loud is free speech too. There is absolutely zero evidence that the Govindas behave any differently among themselves or with male only crowds. Are we saying that they cannot be themselves among women? Then why do we fight for the right of women to be themselves?

At this rate, "public opinion" will have all lower class men evicted from public space unless they can keep their head down and not offend, because what we consider civilized are traits of another identity, not moral character. Going by my mentions on Twitter, the world should be a sterile place with no high passion seen in public for fear of offending. Bah. Noise is life.

It is based on the assumption that the non-lower-class men are angels. 😛 ~ @wabbster

No evil happens in AC places. It seems to be a modern belief. Our subtle class prejudices and paranoias.

When 1 is loud it encourages the performer and it also helps the cheerer to De-stress. 1 should not keep their emotions bottled up ~ Satish Nair

Women get harassed? Sure. Fight it (Thrash the harasser, ideally, but that's just my opinion). How does it help women to keep pointing out shadows to jump at? How does it help to create such an overwhelming perception of persecution that women avoid exerting their rights for fear of being harmed?

Is it even possible to regiment an entire population into standard behavior so that women can live without fear? You can't coddle someone into power. Support. Women have to exert rights and expect support with problems not stand back because threatened. Go, exert your rights. If there is a problem, fight it, fix it using your rights. Your right. Not your right that people design a world to your needs. That is just a sense of entitlement. Complain of hooligans on street. Complain if anyone tells says stay home. Moral of story? Regiment all men so you can walk comfortably? What was our response to criticism of women wearing certain clothes that some found offensive?

Nor is it empowering for women to see something that is normal for men as a threat if they hope to function well among them.

@my2bit: @Vidyut so you are saying ‘men will be men’ what can v do?

No. I'm saying women must be people first. Not waiting for a perfect world to then enter safely that ignores the freedoms of others in it. Attack and fight and fix anything that gets in the way. But you can't de-legitimize normal behavior of people because you fear a threat.

@sirensongs: @vidyut the sheer testosterone level is anti-woman.

I don't understand why this has to be so. I find the male shows of physical skill very attractive. Heck even frogs croak to attract potential mates. It is an instinct! No one is forcing the woman to like it! I think people accept this better when discovery channel explains it. We are not used to experiencing and knowing for ourselves anymore.

Women seek permanence, men get itchy. Men act rowdy, women get offended. We must accommodate and accept the other as long as no harm. We can't really expect both genders to be identical. Much of our thinking may use modern styles, but is rooted in really primitive instincts and has worked for a long time, if you look at the world population. It makes sense to seek greater freedoms for all, but it does not make sense to restrict freedoms of some just because others don't have many freedoms. And who knows if women wouldn't "naturally" be "rowdy" on the streets? When have we given them the freedom to act without care in public? How do we know whether it is really women hating loud men or women so deeply conditioned against loudness as wrong that they fear it in another?

"I really want to watch dahi handi but the crowd..."

Well it is your right to watch if you want and challenge anyone who prevents it. If you don't avoid a situation where you have to exert it, you can hardly blame the world for "not allowing" you a freedom you didn't even need.

No one can ever promise perfect safety. At best, you will find protectors and supporters and the law of the land punishing those who harm you. If you risk, they could help, or you may have to pull through on your own resources. If you don't risk, you can hardly blame them for your lack of initiative.

Be it caste, class, gender whatever. It is really sad that we patronize and isolate to protect instead of endorsing claim on common space.

Girls Dahi Handi

Why do I need a man to give me my rights? I do what I want as my right. I ask for help if I run into problems, sometimes I get defeated, but I am resilient and I am determined to chase my potential. I exert my rights as far as I can push them. That makes me powerful. Many men don't manage that for themselves. What will they grant me?

Your right to be safe does not exist if you abdicate and hide it rather than demand it when your safety is at risk. Though you may be safe. Right to not be harassed comes into question only if you get harassed, not if you curb your freedoms before the question arises. A right does not exist if you don't use it. If you telling me to shut up makes me shut up, my right to free speech is dead from disuse.

Face it, public space is dominated by men and they have no "responsibility" to play hosts to women. The world ain't a massive hospitality industry. Men have their own struggles and problems to fix too. And even if they did, if they "played fair" and shared nicely and all, women would still end up guests/outsiders, being granted rights by someone else who controls them. Claim. Expecting someone else to do it will never give you ownership of them. Like this, women are already a vote bank waiting for sops. Fastest way to compassionate enslavement. Astonishing no party has picked this up. You can't really expect women's rights to be controlled by someone else hand handed over safely.

Nor can women claim space by looking at things to be offended at and blaming men for them. Won't work beyond speeches and Twitter. At some point, women have to grab and run. At some point, women must be able to wade right in risks and all and claim the world as theirs. Living their rights instead wishing for them.

Fighting for rights is one thing, but for practical living, you need empowered women who will exert those rights. You can't coddle them. Women have to be providers (and inventors :p) of own rights, not consumers of rights provided by someone else & bad service means no rights.

That's right. We won't survive if we play the damsel-in-distress. Best to go out there and take care of yourselves. Gender equality. ~ Esha Shah

And for all the bad rep India has, I can personally attest that it is possible for a young woman to live bold, solo, safe (even if worried).

The World Cup win had reports of molestation, harassment, rape within hours. Dahi Handi has none in years. So dahi handi is more dangerous. You go to the World Cup safely, I'll be really brave and risk the sweaty masses on the street.

Dahi handi has this reputation of being unsafe for women. DNA even went ahead and published an article over it. "Is Dahi Handi day safe for women?" it asks and proceeds to answer it as "No" using canned concerns women express about safety. It is a template, right? Women are not safe at the hands of rowdy thugs? The article would have made far more sense if it had included statistics of complaints and reports of harassment filed from previous years, or at least reminded of a molestation that got reported. Women being concerned is hardly news.

But to build apprehensions about a category of people with no real actual reports of harassment of women is little more than slander. Yes, they are excited. Yes they shout. Where are the reports of harassment, molestation, rape or whatever that would make women unsafe? The news from today's dahi handi celebrations includes one child in critical condition and over 300 Govindas hospitalized. There is nothing on misbehaviour so far. Twitter has a lot of comments about hooliganism by Govindas, but nothing on any actual incident of harassment.

So I tried to find out the history of Govindas on molestation. Here are some results from the news archives on Google for "Dahi handi molestation". One result, clicking on it shows some generic news on Dahi Handi, with a link to news on the Guwahati molestation (completely unrelated to Dahi Handi) in the sidebar. Not about a molestation during Dahi Handi celebrations. On Twitter, the only molestation in Mumbai making news happened on a local train last night.

This is hardly surprising. Our snobbish upper middle class that determines what constitutes a threat to women sees the worker class as inherently criminal if they are acting loud. Govindas wear cheap nylon clothes, travel in trucks, are wet and loud all day, flaunt physical prowess, are dark and skinny worker class looking, never speak refined language (English), etc. That means they must be a threat to women, right? Wrong.

Govindas practice for months to achieve a human pyramid that goes as high as 50-60 feet. They make such pyramids to reach break pots strung way high above the ground for a cash reward. Over a hundred Govindas work together as a team and split the reward, which is not insignificant, as most of these people come from working class families. It is a feat of great strength, endurance, skill, balance and unbelievable teamwork where one man's mistake can mean life or death for others.

govindas standing on each other to form human tower

They travel between dahi handi locations by truck and are expected to wait as a competing group on location, where their movements are extremely controlled by the organizers. They are supposed to wait where space is allocated, remain alert for their turn and in general remain alert to management whims as any competitor waiting for their turn in any competition. Their identity is their pride all day, racking winnings to the name of their group. This group is usually born of vyayamshalas or akhadas, which are basically Indian sports schools, and these people have usually turned sport into their life's love. There is tremendous respect for teachers and relationships are longterm and forged in the fires of trusting each other with their lives.

They start the day early and travel all over the city all day breaking various handis and accumulating rewards for the group, repeating that life threatening feat over and over, in spite of exhaustion. Drinking alcohol is out of the question with lives at stake. Few sportsmen are alcoholics that bad to be drunk on the performance of the year. and you may want to try standing on someone's shoulder for a bit without drinking to imagine that they do that death defying stunt when drunk and others risk their lives to a drunk.

What is more, most of these vyayamshalas have women students too and are run on fairly high ethical and moral standards in terms of holistic development of the person with dedicated and highly respected caring teachers I wish our Westernized education system bothered to learn from. You do not train generation after generation of high class performers who compete on National and International levels and on shoestring budgets without giving your soul into it. It is extremely unlikely for womanizing behavior to find peer approval in such groups. There is no scope for breaking off from group. You see them as a group of people breaking handis on whim. They are in reality extremely dedicated performers out on their highly coordinated performance of the year. Which they will have to deliver flawlessly over and over, not letting physical exhaustion impact their performance. All day. One that could also end their life or worse.

Would you, when giving the most important and difficult professional performance of the year that demands incredible focus and commitment engage in criminal behavior or anything that would reflect badly on your team? Why would they? Just because they don't have a West approved look? Which star performer doesn't hype up crowds, make loud noise, ramp the excitement? And you clearly aren't paying enough attention if you don't realize these are star performances. Every single one speaking of tremendous effort gone into that half hour in front of you.

Mumbai has 35 all-women dahi handi teams who made news asking for security this year. Not because Govindas molest them, but because the Mumbai Gang rape terrified them and they worried for safety while returning from practice sessions  which often happen in slum areas and run late.

Is it impossible that no one is drunk or that no one harasses a woman? With humans, such guarantees are impossible, but the kind of reputation built around the Govindas reminds me of how the Dalits "invading" Mumbai in Ambedkar's memory are seen as a nuisance rather than a living memorial to a man who draws lakhs annually half a century after his death without any publicity stunts or freebies. Similarly, we see Govindas climb in one another in human pyramids and all we understand from this extraordinary physical ability is the threat it could be. Wait. We declare it a threat anyway.

Police make security arrangements, media hypes up the lack of safety for women, and everyone is in business. The Govindas are highly unlikely to notice these articles on the side and if they do, they are rarely into analyzing news enough to question reports of the entire scene. So all is well. Women are unsafe. Get it?

Dahi handi crowds are mostly stationary people in a high state of excitement and community feeling and an abundance of exceedingly physically fit people. It would take a remarkably stupid person to harass women in the middle of such a crowd. Women spectators are very common on dahi handis, as are kids. Traditionally. It is sad that in the great GDP chase, "India" has lost touch so much with traditions, that we don't know who these people are. Worse, since our ideals no longer look like Indian commoners, we aren't even curious.

They deserve more respect. They do not deserve to be treated as criminals just because they look what we consider inferior (which is how most Indians look). If there are no reports of harassment, they do not deserve to have media labeling them as drunk womanizers.

We as a society are snobs. We attach illegitimacy to those we consider inferior and deny them any respect. Perhaps if we could get the Govindas to wear international sports brands and deos, gave them air conditioned luxury cars to travel in, dahi handi would become safer for women.