Mathura: Getting pawed during Holi revelry is not the flirtatious `chhed chhad` one associates with Lord Krishna in his dalliance with the gopis. Fear of getting groped by men is keeping women of Vrindavan and Mathura at home during the festival of colours, say locals.
Though the fervour and spirit of Holi is on the rise every year, the purity with which it was once played is fast diminishing, points out Avnish Bajaj, a young shopkeeper opposite the Iskcon Temple in Vrindavan.
"Six to seven years back, we used to be very excited about going to the Banke Bihari Temple to play Holi. People used to make sure it was very clean... but these days if one plans to go, he or she should go at their own risk," Bajaj told reporters.
"You might wear a new shirt or kurta to play Holi at the temple, but you won`t return with clothes on - and at times it holds true for both men and women.
"It has become a serious concern for us. We feel insecure to allow our sisters or even mother to go out and play because a lot of indecent activities take place. We prefer to have a family get-together and have healthy fun," he added.
Fifteen-year-old Payal Gupta, among the few local girls dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt in Mathura`s Krishna Janma Bhoomi Temple, admits Holi now brings a sense of fear rather than fun in girls like her.
"Bahut ill-treatment hoti hai yahaan...bahut chhed chhad. Ladke idhar udhar haath lagaate hain aur mauke ka faayda uthaate hain (There is a lot of ill-treatment towards women here. Boys touch us here and there and take advantage of the festival to get close to us physically)," said Gupta, a Class 10 student.
Her friend Mala Sharma, dressed in a white and red suit, too spoke out about how their freedom is curbed during the days in the run-up to Holi.
"As Holi gets closer, we are not allowed to step out of the house without parents` permission. The famous Lath Maar Holi happens here at the Krishna Janma Bhoomi Temple, but we can only come here with our parents as otherwise, we could face harassment," said Sharma.
Police say they are helpless.
"We learn about a lot of cases. People complain verbally, but many a time they do not file an official complaint. People know we are helpless during Holi as most of the people are unrecognisable due to colour on their faces. So there is not much that we can do...whatever is in our hands, or if we see someone harassing a lady, we come to their rescue," said a sub-inspector, who did not wish to be named.
The Holi celebrations in this Uttar Pradesh region begin much before the festivities kickstart in other parts of India.
The Lath Maar Holi, where the women of Barsana hit men with lathis (sticks) and men shield themselves, started March 14, and will culminate in the compound of Mathura`s Krishna Janma Bhoomi Temple March 16.
The preparations are already in full swing - as a stage is being set for a cultural programme. Electrical sprinklers are being set up to throw dry gulaal (red colour) in all directions to soak the revellers in colour.
Holi at the Banke Bihari temple will be a five-day affair starting on Ekadashi March 16, and will be played till 2 p.m. March 20.
Though dry gulaal and yellow colour from tesu flower are the norm here, people outside the temple do not hesitate to play Holi with mud or drain water - making it unpleasant for those wanting to step out and just enjoy.