Leiden Religie Blog

Dancing in protest - The Holi flashmob and Hindu identity

Dancing in protest - The Holi flashmob and Hindu identity

The movement against Holi (Holi is geen houseparty) on March 23 is the first time nearly 30 Hindu organisations in the Netherlands have come together to protest.

Holi is one of the most visible Hindu events in the Netherlands: associated most often with its lively celebrations where coloured powder is thrown on neighbours and friends to mark the beginning of the spring season. As with many Hindu festivals, there is a specific mythological narrative that is associated with Holi. At the Shri Vishnu primary school in the Hague, young students retold the story of the corrupt, egotistical king Haranyakashipu, who wishes all to worship him as god, and his pious son who refuses to worship him. This narrative plays an important part in framing the festival for many Surinamese Hindus as not only a moment to celebrate the coming of spring, but also a time to recognize the importance of honesty and humility in everyday life.

Holi is not a Houseparty

This year, as colours flew in many public spaces in the Netherlands, there was a political message that accompanied the celebration. On March 23, 2016, various localities around the Netherlands also celebrated the annual spring festival of Holi with a choreographed ‘flashmob’ dance. This dance marks the first time that a collective event was planned in order for Hindus and non-Hindus to respectfully participate in the festival. The flash mob was initiated by the campaign known as Holi is Geen Houseparty (Holi is Not a Houseparty).

‘Holi is Geen Houseparty’ was started as a movement to protest the appropriation of Holi by a popular dance music festival, ‘Holi Festival of Colours’. This summer dance festival co-opts the performance of throwing colour and connects it to an all-night celebration. The protesters of Holi is Geen Houseparty view this as the appropriation of a celebration that has been stripped of its religious and cultural context, and ‘re-packaged’ as an opportunity to exotify and exploit Hindu culture by associating it with drugs and house music. What is more, protesters are against treating Holi as a summer celebration, as it has clear ties within Hinduism to the celebration of spring.

Hindu community divided?

The development of ‘Holi is Geen Houseparty’ is significant in the history of Surinamese Hindu political interventions in the Netherlands: it marks the first time that nearly 30 Hindu organisations in the country have come together to protest. While various Hindu community members have indeed come together to support certain causes, such as the lobby for the first Hindu primary school during the 1980s, or the protest of the closing of a temporary temple space in Amsterdam Zuidoost in 2010, Hindus are often considered a ‘divided community’ that finds it difficult to come together to support certain campaigns.

This is unlike cases in the US and the UK. Hindus in these localities across ethnic and class backgrounds have historically made visible interventions in civil society in order to protect their rights and fight against issues that in their eyes hurt, demean or appropriate Hindu imagery and religiosity. Scholars like Parita Mukta (2000) and John Zavos (2008) have referred to this respectively as the articulation of ‘Hindu hurt’, negotiated specifically in diaspora contexts from the rights of recognition as a minority religion in a multicultural milieu.

The Hindu identity

For example, protests against the use of Hindu imagery of gods and goddesses on items of clothing or shoes in the US and the display of so-called offensive images of goddesses by the artist M.F. Husain in the UK have become visible instances of the culture of Hindu campaigning. These campaigns serve to strengthen the ties between citizenship, rights and Hindu identity: Holi is Geen Houseparty is a prime example of how Hindu identity in the Netherlands is increasingly becoming a public performance associated with citizenship and legal rights. This is doubly significant, as both the media and academic writing have inscribed Surinamese Hindus as a monolithic ‘model minority’ group that is relatively uninvolved with politics and preoccupied with achieving socio-economic success.

The Holi is Geen Houseparty movement represents a highly visible moment wherein community actors complicate the idea of being a politically inactive, model minority. The movement also problematises the way their culture is being appropriated by various actors in their society. This is not only a matter of safeguarding their cultural and religious heritage, it is a matter of being assertive about such safeguarding. While the intervention of Hindus into the public sphere through political protest is not something new, Holi is Geen Houseparty’s flashmob dance marked a performance that combines protest with the sheer joy of dancing: a way in which to creatively draw the attention and participation of Hindu and non-Hindu actors into their struggle against cultural appropriation.

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