Last week, Delhi University’s Gargi College celebrated its annual festival, Reverie. On the third day, February 6, however, festivity turned to horror as a group of men entered the women’s college and allegedly molested several students.
“They didn’t look like college students, they were drunk men,” said Aditi Agrawal, who studies political science at the college.
Some news reports claimed the men were returning from a rally in support of the citizenship law, but Newslaundry could not verify these claims.
Several students Newslaundry spoke with said there were indeed “fringe elements” on the campus but there were “others” as well. “Fringe elements were present there and ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogans were being shouted,” said a student of political science who is in the third year. “But we don’t know for sure their association. Apart from these elements, there were a lot of men coming from the street itself. There was no crowd control or crowd checking.”
So, who exactly were these men? The police have arrested 10 people and, from footage collected from 32 CCTV cameras, identified 30 more who were involved in the assault, the Indian Express reported on Thursday. They are students of Delhi University and a private college in Gurgaon, according to the police. The arrested men have been sent in judicial custody, the Quint .
How, though, did these men manage to enter the college and unleash mayhem?
Newslaundry spoke with dozens of students to understand what happened on February 6.
According to the Facebook page for Reverie, entry to the festival was restricted to the students of Delhi University, Delhi Technological University, and the Indian Institute of Technology.
There was much excitement on the third day because Indi pop singer Jubin Nautiyal was expected to perform. Known for his work in movies such as Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Kaabil, Nautiyal’s appearance was announced on the Facebook page on January 30.
While male students could attend the fest after showing their college IDs the first two days, they were to be allowed in only after furnishing passes issued by the administration on the last day. The deadline for entering was 4.30 pm.
A screenshot of the Facebook page of Reverie.
Yet, at around 4.15 pm, the administration opened the gates to everyone. As such, many men entered the campus without the mandatory passes. In fact, some students alleged that these men didn’t even have to show their ID cards.
“From about 4 pm to 9 pm, that is, for about five hours, they were inside the college. There were instances of molestation, groping and mishaps. The administration stood by and did not take any action,” said the third-year political science student. “This entire crowd only came to watch Jubin Nautiyal perform. The first two days had cultural events but there was tight security. In fact, the guest list we had given for our performers and other judges was also very thoroughly checked. ID cards and bags were checked and anything questionable was removed. But on the last day, nothing was done.”
Indeed, speaking to Newslaundry, several students claimed to have been harassed and molested. Most of them asked not to be named because the college administration had questioned other students who had talked to the media.
Here’s what some of them had to say:
“We saw a man of around 35 years on the campus masturbating at girls, but the police didn’t do anything to stop him.”
“I had to move from the stall I was standing at to the area reserved for Gargi students but the ground was full to the extent that I had to move through the crowd. I was felt up continuously by the men there. I was crying by the time I reached the other end.”
“I saw a group of men standing on a table right next to the main stage and shouting, “Jo larki mujhse pategi usse 50,000 rupyee ki makeup kit free dunga” (Any girl who comes with me will get a free makeup kit). During the concert, the guys just wouldn’t stop touching us inappropriately. I ultimately had to leave the crowded area.”
“A girl in the crowd was wearing an off-shoulder top. I saw someone try to pull it down.”
“They broke open the gates and started running in our direction. I had to escape from my own college for my safety.”
According to the students, some of the men scaled the walls on to the campus, coming from a park behind the college. The walls are topped with barbed wire, but they used wire cutters to remove it. The college had hired 10 private guards to provide security for the festival and the Delhi police had deployed 20 personnel, two PCR vans and 40 RAF commandos. Some of them were stationed outside the campus and arrived only after the gates had been forced open. Those on the campus allegedly didn’t intervene when the men stormed in.
“I saw large groups of men barging in and running towards the festival ground. At first, there was entry after showing passes, but when these groups arrived no one tried to check them,” Agrawal complained. “A lot of them were making obnoxious comments about the girls.”
Some students took to social media to express their anger:
This is not the first time that Gargi College’s fest has landed in controversy. Last year too, several students had complained of harassment.
“In 2019, many students reported sexual harassment at Reverie, a few of us even filed a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee. A year later, neither the management nor the complaints committee has taken any action,” said a student of psychology. “The committee, with a proctor and a student representative, is there only in name.”
Indeed, one of the media partners of last year’s Reverie, DU Beat, a student newspaper, had published a on sexual harassment at the fest. “We were responsible for covering the event and, naturally, we reported on harassment cases as well. The organisers and the management didn’t take it well when we published those stories,” said Ashwini Iyer, head of human resources at DU Beat and a Gargi College student. “From what I have heard, the principal didn’t want us on board again this year because our report on harassment was ‘bad PR’ for the college.”
After the latest allegations of molestation, the Quint , Promila Kumar, the principal, was heard telling her students, “Why come to the fests if you do not feel safe?”
Asked about the complaints, Kumar told the , “No complaint has been filed. The event was open for boys studying in other DU colleges. We had police, commandos and bouncers on campus, and staff were also on duty. There was an arena on the campus meant only for girls. If they were outside that, it was their personal choice.”
Angry with the administration for “gross mismanagement” of the festival, Gargi College’s students launched a protest on February 7. It’s still on. On February 10, representatives of the National Commission for Women visited the protest to speak with the students.
“Now the police are being helpful,” said the third-year political science student, noting that for the first time in three years bags and ID cards of students were being checked thoroughly before they were allowed inside. “What were they doing on February 6?”
She added, “When we went to college on February 10, there was a lot of barricading. My question is where were these barricades and the heavy police deployment on the day of the fest?”
Police barricades along August Kranti Marg near Gargi College on February 11
The protesting students have formed a fact-finding committee to investigate the events leading to and during the festival as well as specific complaints against the administration and the organisers of Reverie. The committee is expected to submit its report by February 15.
“We have made sure that everything is on the students’ terms,” said the political science student. “We have told the administration that if they select the members of the fact-finding committee, we will outright reject it.”
Shambhawi Vikram, co-founder of Pinjra Tod, a women’s collective, said this incident was of a pattern. “They sell passes to make money. The fest is basically a form of revenue generator,” she said, referring to the college’s administration. “Where this money goes, nobody knows. It’s not like it will be used to invest in infrastructure for students.”
She added, “There is a kind of fetishism around women’s colleges. Because people cannot enter it on other days, there is a greater desire to get in whenever they can. These forms of lapses have happened over the years. Gargi has to figure out some way to address this and think of better measures to manage security during fests.”
Gargi College students attend a meeting on February 11 where the decision was taken to form a fact-finding committee.
Gargi College students attend a meeting on February 11 where the decision was taken to form a fact-finding committee.The Delhi University has now issued an advisory directing its colleges to ensure the safety of women employees and students, the Indian Express reported. The university also said it was in talks with the police to strengthen security at all its constituent colleges.
Newslaundry reached out to the Delhi police, but they weren’t available for comment.
Meanwhile, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday “seeking a CBI probe monitored by it into the alleged molestation of students by the group of men”. The PIL, filed by a lawyer named ML Sharma, also demanded the arrest of those who “planned the criminal conspiracy”, the Indian Express reported.