The winter started to slowly melt away, the Sun knocking on our windows as Holi approached — a festival of colour and laughter. For those of us who grew up in northern India, we know it's one of the biggest here. Such is the passion and excitement of the festival that we want to relive it even as adults. And most of us in the NCR land up in Nandgaon, a place known for its unique weeklong Holi celebration — “Lathmaar Holi”.
NCR girls Deepti Asthana and Meghana Sanka also looked forward to celebrating Lathmaar Holi. The duo planned with their respective groups and landed up at Nandgaon, looking forward to a celebration of a lifetime.
However, the experience and tales they came back with were shocking. Under the blanket of excitement and festive fervour they encountered a veiled beast — molestation.
Here fun was not just smearing each other with colour and throwing water balloons. It was targeting water-filled pichkaris on women, groping them and molesting them.
Meghana Sanka, a Gurgaon-based writer, says, “I went to Nandgaon to witness the festivities this year around Holi. I came back horrified. I was groped and assaulted by men there. A sadhu stared at my breasts and before I could react, put his elbows out, rubbed them against me and walked away. My definition of sadhu has got an update now.”
She added that men roamed the streets seeking prey. “My posterior was targeted with pichkaris. I tried to move away but they always followed. I hurriedly left the main temple premises, only to find that the water trickling down my thighs felt like it was burning my flesh. I got to know later that they mixed sheera [glass powder] with water just for fun. It was their way of making the women remember who they had played Holi with.”
Deepti Asthana, travel photographer from Janakpuri, had this visit on her bucket list for a long time. Her mother is a disciple of a Nandgaon-based ashram and has a room permanently booked there for the entire year. Asthana finally got a chance to plan a photo tour with a couple of photographers. She even plans to conduct an all-women photography tour to Nandgaon next year.
"I was set to cover the world-famous Holi fully geared — dressed as locally as possible in a traditional salwar kurta with a dupatta, and a camera. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was having my modesty stripped off in a religious place. As soon as I entered Nandgaon, accompanied by two other photographers, I was encircled by a group of men. One after another buckets of coloured water were poured over me. I was stunned the way the pichkaris were specifically targeting my private parts and before I could understand what was happening, I got a pat on my bottom."
Strong-willed Asthana doesn't plan to come back after all this. She went away to the roof of the temple and made her camera the spectator. However, the decision added to her ordeal.
"I witnessed every female present there being subjected to this — irrespective of age, be it an 8-year-old kid or a 60-year-old woman. I was standing among four photographers and suddenly a hand came from behind and groped my breasts. This time I tried not to be afraid and managed to catch the hand. I saw two young boys, half my age, looking fearlessly at me and giggling. I raised my voice to show my anger. I asked them how they dared to touch me, and the reply left me scarred for life “You are standing here on Holi, what else do you expect?”
Once back, both Asthana and Sanka shared what happened with them on social media and a few online portals. Shockingly, they were trolled, with some saying the media only found Hindu festivals to defame and others bringing in misplaced feminism and misogyny.
However, the women are not backing off. They both have accounts of Lathmaar Holi and they are taking to social media even more vehemently to tell fellow women travellers that this is not a festival to have on their bucket list.