It’s been a month of grit and victories for students challenging patriarchy in Delhi University.
After a long struggle, female students were able to extend their curfew in Miranda House from 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm, while also effecting a few other relaxations in the rules. These students state that their struggle will continue till the day curfews are entirely relegated to the past and all envisioned freedoms are won.
The Miranda House victory rally reached the boys hostel of Hindu College to warn them against continuing their ‘virgin tree puja’ and to answer the administration’s repeated query: “Curfew hatwakar aadhi raat ko sadak par karogi kya? (After the removal of the curfew, what will you do on the street at midnight?)”
Female students at Hindu College also decided to defy their curfew. They challenged the puja with other members of Pinjra Tod and claimed their right to drink chai outside – just as their male counterparts are allowed to do.
‘Puja yahin karenge’
‘Virgin tree puja’ is considered a ‘tradition’ by some male students of Hindu College, believing that it will help them to lose their virginity within six months. In the past, many female students have complained against this ritual for being misogynistic and objectifying women
During the practice, a male student dresses up as a priest and performs religious rituals while others sing the ‘artiof Damdami mai’. This arti has lines like, “Ye teri kaya gaanon par thumka lagata” and “Tumko din bhar dekhu, raat bhar so nahi paata” (“I see your body and I dance” and “Staring at you in the daytime makes it difficult for me to sleep at night”.) They also decorate their tree with water-filled condoms and posters of Bollywood actresses.
The women protestors, carrying banners calling for an to “end neoliberal brahminical patriarchal culture”, decided to prevent the male students from performing this 69-year-old ritual.
Devangana, a member of the Pinjra Tod collective, said, “Anju Srivastava arrived at 3 am at night. We blocked her entrance at the gate, demanding accountability about her complicity in letting the puja take place but she chose to go to the boys hostel to congratulate them for keeping the ‘tradition’ (alive). Women students were threatened for breaking hostel curfew.”
At midnight on February 13, when the puja participants were decorating their ‘virgin tree’ with water-filled condoms and a big poster of a ‘happy couple’ – they chose Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma – female students were facing repression from the administration for defying their curfew.
This year, the poster of a ‘happy couple’ replaced the traditional one of a Bollywood actress, after complaints from the protesters. The male puja participants claim that they also agreed to change a few lines of their arti.
Pinjra Tod members said, in a Facebook post, that they will not settle for these minor changes. “Actual enactment of the puja, no matter whatever ‘patriarchal’ or ‘progressive’ content they claim to manufacture, is a deeply masculine and aggressive event built on the humiliation and objectification of women,” they Said
In another Facebook, the collective said, “(The) police was only intent on ‘protecting’ the ‘innocent’ boys so that they could conduct their damn ritual. The organisers of the puja, fearing the protests today, did a first round of of this stupid puja at 6am in the morning. It is indeed incredible that the whole machinery of state-police-administration had to come together to ensure that this despicable ‘tradition’ is upheld .
On the morning of February 14, the puja participants were ready with their dholsand their ‘priest’, chanting ‘Puja yahin karenge’. In response, the protesters broke through gates of Hindu College and proceeded to the spot where the puja was supposed to happen. There, they formed a human chain while also managing to climb the tree and remove the decorations.
The protesters began chanting slogans such as “Brahmanwad se azadi, pitrisatta se azadi”, “V-tree puja nahin hone denge” and “Auratein apne aap ki, nahi kissi ke baap ki.”
The male students, in response, started shouting, “Hindu hamare aap ka, nahin kisi ke baap ka”, “Jab tak suraj chand rahega dam dami mai tera naam rahega“, “Bharat mata ki jai” and “Vande mataram.”
The male students claimed that the protesters were not able to take this as a ‘joke’, and that they were overreacting even after a number of changes to the puja were made, including changing its aim from ‘loss of virginity’ to ‘love and desire’.
They even claimed that they have modified the words of the arti of damdami mai as well as those of the posters. However, in many videos, they were heard hailing this puja and its misogyny.
Hari, a resident of the Hindu College boys hostel, said, “This v-tree puja is our tradition and we are completely against any external agency or outsiders intervening in this. We have made a few changes this time, but still, those girls came and disrupted event and politicised the issue unnecessarily.”
Yogita, also member of Pinjra Tod, said, “It was a historical day for us. We got curfew time extended and we challenged this regressive tradition, too. But all these events had consequences. Members of ABVP terrorised the campus and inflicted violence on protestors at v-tree puja. They also broke into Miranda House and posed physical threats to women students.”
A statement issued by Pinjra Tod said, “It is indeed ironical that our act of stopping a ‘ritual’ that has perpetuated violence at the expense of the bodies and dignity of women and marginalised communities for generations is being called a ‘violent’ act for not being able to take a ‘joke’. This is NOT a ‘joke’, the V-Tree as it has evolved over the years is a reinforcement of rape culture, a deeply brahminical practice firmly enmeshed in strengthening Hindutva forces and ideology on campus! It had to be challenged and disrupted, and women students have fearlessly led this battle!”
No more Anga oath
Another patriarchal Delhi University tradition was the ‘Anga oath’, which used to happen every year in St. Stephen’s College since 1979 as part of a purported Stephanian ‘legacy’. A student from the college, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that the tradition originated in opposition to the admission of female students to the college