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Harita Iswara (she/her), the Communications & Outreach Coordinator from Hindus for Human Rights, joins us to discuss Holi.

May this festival strength you to oppose evil.

Holi is a joyful festival for many Hindu communities, where we eat sweets and throw colored powder on our friends as we celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The story of Holi is about a young prince who confronts his tyrannical father, showing that good will defeat evil. Standing up for what you believe in, even in the face of pressure from your family and community is the true spirit of Holi.

Last year, I helped revive a movement that was started in 2020 by other South Asian activists, called Holi against Hindutva, that is, Hindu nationalism. We highlighted the work of youth activists from India and in the diaspora who opposed Hindu nationalism on Holi, a holiday when we are supposed to be standing up for good against evil. We need youth voices in the movement against religious nationalism, both in India and the United States because it harms our democracy and endangers our future.

Abortion access being stripped away and abortion being criminalized is a part of this larger democratic backslide that many countries are experiencing, but we see it especially in the United States. Religious nationalist movements weaponize religion to control people’s bodies and their rights. We can’t just sit by and let them do it. We have to take the teachings that we’ve learned through our religions and traditions and speak out against these evil forces. Holi is about doing what we believe is the right thing, even when we face the kind of societal pressures and cultural stigmas which we see in many communities around abortion. 

There are global movements of religious nationalists who are working to strip away our rights. To combat this, we need multi-faith networks and communities to stand up for democracy and justice. We can’t view these issues in silos: they are all connected. I’m empowered to do this work of fighting for human rights by the values which my parents taught me. I wasn’t raised particularly religious, but when I look at the core tenets of my faith I see the core of how my parents raised me: the value of being a good person and fighting for what is right.

Whether or not you are celebrating Holi today, I hope we can all strive for what is good, even in the face of evil.

Holi means lots of different things to different South Asian communities. Some caste oppressed communities contest and reimagine the story of Holi because of its roots as an oppressive upper caste narrative. Other communities celebrate the love of Radha and Krishna in this festival, or Shiva killing the god Kama, or even just celebrate Holi as a harvest festival – a celebration of love and the beginning of spring. We can’t speak about South Asian communities, in India or the diaspora, with one voice. 

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