When first asked on August 28, Mumbai's Asha Patekar said she was not worried about stepping out of the house on dahi handi day. But on August 29, she changed her route to work to avoid the truck-fulls of men who had gathered on the street. “I had forgotten,” she says. “They do harass (women).” 26-year-old Asha works as a domestic help.
These truck-fulls of men are on the street for dahi handi. Celebrated a day after Janmashtami, dahi handi sees groups of men, standing on top of each other in pyramid-like structures. Their aim is to break a suspended earthen pot of dahi, which often entitles them to a cash prize. This is a day when one can see many groups of govindas, as the men who participate in the celebration are called, on the street.
24-year-old Shannen Castelino, a post-graduate in History from Mumbai University, has always avoided stepping out on dahi handi day.
“There is an alcohol shop outside my house. I see them (the govindas) loitering around outside it. They eve tease (women). Elders in my family also advise me against stepping out. I prefer staying at home.” Just the thought of stepping out on dahi handi day makes her feel vulnerable and unsafe.
But there are those who do not feel unsafe. Madhura Lonkar, a 24-year-old junior research fellow at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, says that her experience on dahi handi day has not been bad. “They (the govindas) just go on cheering loudly.” Lonkar says it is believable that women face harassment on this day, but it depends on the locality.
28-year-old Namrata Bhosale, a Shiv Sena corporator from Thane, is involved in the organisation of at least two dahi handis in the city. She says that once girls reach a certain age, stepping out on dahi handi day becomes difficult for them.
The corporator says that there are certain groups which take dahi handi seriously and are focussed only on the event. But 60% govindas are only out for fun. Bhosale advises women against stepping out, especially alone, on dahi handi day. They can watch the celebrations on TV, she says.
Lavanya Varadrajan, who teaches in the Mass Media department at Sophia College, prefers not to step out on the day. “You feel threatened, at every level,” she says. According to her, there is no easy answer to why men act the way they do on these occasions.
“It is just too much testosterone on a truck,” Varadrajan says. These men are out, with the feeling that they are going to accomplish something (that is claim the cash prize on breaking a handi). They are charged up. If you, as a woman, happen to be there, you are perceived as fair game. It is pack behaviour.
Varadrajan also says that most women who say they do not face any issues on this day are living in denial. This is because women are made to believe that if they are sexually violated, they are complicit in the act.
Also, if a woman admits to harassment of any sort, she is made to believe by men and women, even in her immediate environment, that she has been robbed of her chastity. Acts of sexual harassment are often wrongly conflated with notions of reciprocal lust, which in turn impact the way these issues are addressed in society.
Varadrajan concludes by saying that sexual harassment, and the attendant fear among women, is the product of deep gender injustice, in society. Women legitimise this social inequity, as much as men do, by incorporating patriarchal ideas into every aspect of their existence.
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