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The Burning Woman

  • JWB Post
  •  March 5, 2015

 

The fire slowly eats into her body. People scream and cheer loudly at the sight of the flames engulfing her. A man points his fingers at her and starts hurling the filthiest of abuses to which others also eventually join in. The elation seems to be everywhere. From the little boy who at the encouragement of his parents throws garbage at her to the roadside shop owner who is laughing happily, everyone seems to enjoy her pain.

Holika Dahan

So its that time of the year again where there is an apparent explosion of colours. Holi is one festival where we truly smear ourselves with the many shades of spring. Holika Dahan is the customary ritual that is held before Holi with people lighting a bonfire to celebrate the death of Holika. Holika was the sister of Hiranyakashipu and was burnt to death when she tried to kill her nephew Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Throughout mythology, Holika is mostly portrayed as a negative character who, on the order of her brother desperately tries to end the life of an innocent child.

That is why, to this day in some parts of our country, while lighting the pyre for Holika Dahan, people often hurl abuses and also throw garbage in it. Now let us think of this in a slightly different light. Inside her wicked and scheming character, Holika was still a woman. So when we celebrate Holika Dahan by happily abusing Holika and throwing in garbage we tend to ignore that it is also a woman who is thus being insulted. Although it is done mostly in ignorance but is it also true that the small children who see their elders taking part in this custom of abuse then the resulting impression is definitely not a pro-women one.

Blame the woman

In a society which is notorious for its secondary approach to the feminine self and also rising cases of violence against women, would it be very useful to express glee over a woman, however villainous she may be being burnt. Let us take into consideration the recent statements made by one of the men convicted in the Delhi gang rape case. The man not only appears unrepentant, but also goes on to say that how a woman should never fight back when getting assaulted and a girl who ventures late at night lacks good character.

There is a certain murkiness in his statements which actually is also quite worrying. Whatever gibberish he spoke is not at all new. Every now and then we hear almost the same points from people in different sections of our society who dole out advice about how woman should behave. What is startling is that the man who was very much a part of the monstrous attack on Nirbhaya is in agreement with many more people in the country and with their chauvinistic and regressive attitude towards women.

A Father-Son Dialogue

 “Dad, can we move back a little bit from the fire? It’s very hot.”

“Of course son. See how high the flames are reaching?”

“But dad, if we burn Holika, it must be very painful for her. Isn’t it?”

“Actually, you will be surprised to know son that Holika Dahan is not about burning Holika, but about the triumph of good over evil. This fire and the warmth around it signify the light and the warm touch of love, which are always symbols of humanity.”

“Whoa, I used to think that it was about killing Holika.”

“No son, the death of a person, however good or bad he or she might be, could never be an occasion to celebrate. Holika Dahan is about that inherent light in our souls that always make us strive towards our destiny.”

 JWB Take

The above conversation is just an example of what could be done to instil a sense of plurality and gender equality in the minds of children. It would definitely be a huge step towards making men more enlightened about the difficulties that the women face in our society. We have nothing against Holika Dahan and on the contrary we love to see Jaipur coming alive at the festival of colours. However, we strongly believe that the time has now come to interpret our traditions in a new light. JWB is very optimistic to see that what new ideas our mythologies have to offer for the 21st century woman.

– by Deep Mukherjee

Columnist

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