What is Holi (Holy) about this? Why would the Brahmanical-Patriarchal India celebrate the burning of Holika, an Asura Bahujan woman?

Flames Of Resistance 

The Bhagwata Purana states that a powerful Asura King Hiranya Kashyapu was angered by his Prahlad’s worship of the Aryan god Vishnu against his will. The Asura King sent his sister Holika to kill his only son Prahlad who was ten years old. Holika had a shawl which could protect her from burning in the fire. Holika sat with Prahlad on a pyre. However, the wind blows, wrapping Prahlad with the cloth and Holika is instead burned to death. Holika Dahan is supposed to be celebrated to commemorate this event. It is the victory of good over evil.

The Vedas and Puranas have historically portrayed the Asura, Rakshasa, Dalit, Bahujan women as evil, immoral and sexually promiscuous as against the ‘upper’ caste/ Brahmin women who epitomise purity, morality and chastity, as is evident in the portrayal of Surpanakha, Ayomukhi, Tataka, Holika and all other Asura women. Is there space for counter narratives of Dalit Bahujan women within the “Inclusive Brahminic India (Nation)? Aren’t our default ideas of Holika merely indoctrination by the Brahminical Vedas and Puranas and nothing more than that? Could it be possible that she was forced against her will to sit on the pyre? Could it be possible that Holika was a kind-hearted woman who willingly gave her shawl to Prahlad to save him from the fire instead? Are we ever going to hear the narratives of Asura, Dalit, Bahujan women in their own voices? The subaltern women did speak, can speak and will speak but are you willing to listen or do you pretend that you listen to her voice and cries, within the air-conditioned conference rooms on women’s rights where you continue to erase, appropriate and misrepresent her harsh lived experience/s ?

Historically, the festival of Holi has also sexually abused Dalit women in the name of celebrations. Author Uttam Kamble writes about one of the practices in “Okali” which was a festival like ‘Rang Panchami’ in Karnataka, where the young boys from higher castes assembled around a pool of coloured water in front of the town temple. Young Devadasis in the town stood in front of them in a row, and each received a sari, a choli and a flower garland. The coloured water was poured over the devadasis who appeared virtually naked as the cloths given to them would be very thin, scanty, and transparent. The boys played with the bodies of devadasis as they liked, doing everything just short of sexual intercourse. All assembled enjoyed the scene. This was in vogue till 1987 [Uttam Kamble, Sugawa, p. 81].

We are yet to come across a practice of the festival which does not initiate with the burning of Holika. The act of ‘burning’ Dalit Bahujan women is essentially a patriarchal and brahmanical practice, still a rampant practice in India, let us not forget the Gujarat Riots when Muslim women were raped and then burned alive. Let us not forget the cases where Dalit women were burnt alive by casteist goons after raping them, let us not forget the case of Soni Sori who was attacked with acid-like substance by Brahminical forces. The very practice of ‘Holika Dahan’ followed by celebration with colours is a practice of celebrating the unjust methods used historically to silence the Dalit Bahujan women. It is shocking that even the so-called Progressive and Left Feminists, who question the right wing for their anti-women statements; also celebrate this anti-women tradition in the name of ‘innocent festival of colours’. Therefore, Culturally, Holi is the coming together of the Right and the Left symbolically burning the Dalit woman, with the blessings of Manu, with joy and pomp in the public sphere while Dalit,Adivasi, Bahujan women continue to cry silently. Holi will not only remain anti-bahujan, anti-dalit and anti-adivasi women in character but against womanhood itself.

Flames Of Resistance (FOR) is a platform for women from marginalized communities in JNU to come together and raise their issues and concerns ignored in the mainstream discourse. It would ignite debates and discussions by deconstructing and reconstructing an alternate narrative of the lives of women from the margins. This endeavor thereby hopes to act as an agent of knowledge and resistance to challenge the multiple matrices of power.

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