Every year on February 14, Delhi's Hindu College finds itself in the spotlight. Valentine’s Day has been celebrated at the college for decades, but the practice, over the years, has morphed into something rather ugly.
The boys’ hostel customarily celebrates by decorating a tree on campus with condoms filled with water. Calling this tree the “Virgin Tree”, they then put up a poster of an actress who is named as Damdami Mai and “worship” her with an aarti. The boys then bathe in the water from the condoms.
This practice has drawn ire for objectifying women and perpetuating misogynistic, casteist and patriarchal ideas. As a result, this year, anticipating the “Virgin Tree puja”, the college administration said the tradition should be discontinued. But things didn’t go according to plan.
On Sunday, a call for protest outside Hindu College was given by several organisations and gender forums of colleges across Delhi University. The protesters primarily demanded disciplinary action against those students who went ahead with the controversial celebration despite several rounds of negotiation between the boys’ and girls’ hostels, and direct intervention from the administration.
The students began gathering at Gate 1 of the college at around 1 pm, after which it was promptly closed. Police and CRPF personnel were deployed around the college gate.
The students shouted slogans accusing the college administration of colluding with students of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad who were allegedly involved in conducting the puja and hanging objectionable posters.
Students protesting outside Hindu College on Monday.
Slogans like “Hindu admin darta hai, police ko aage karta hai” – the administration of Hindu College is afraid and so seeks police protection – and “ABVP why so creepy?” were heard. A group of students, including members of ABVP Hindu College, retorted with slogans like “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” – Shoot the traitors – and started singing the national anthem. This group of counterprotesters dispersed after being ordered to do so by the guards and representatives from the administration.
Initially, a delegation of students of Hindu College demanded a dialogue with the administration but they were not let inside. Kannita, a student of Delhi University, said, “The men are scared and claiming that the outside forces performed the ritual. What has the administration been doing? Here there are people who have been standing for more than an hour but they are not being allowed inside but then a random group of people are allowed to perform puja the Virgin Tree. That’s why we know which side the administration is supporting.”
After several speeches by students, a delegation was let inside to talk to representatives of the administration. Benna Fathima, a student of Hindu College, said, “First they didn’t even let our delegation in. Now, they have talked and said that they will have a meeting tomorrow. Let’s see what happens. There was silence from the administration’s part so if nothing is done, we will continue to protest.”
The gathering dispersed after a performance by the theatre group Dastak.
Here’s what happened in the days leading to this:
On February 11, the administration of Hindu College called an open meeting. After hearing students, Anju Shrivastava, principal of the college, said the tradition would be discontinued. Instead, the boys’ and girls’ hostels would participate in an event that would include music and dancing.
On February 13, a meeting of representatives from both hostels was convened to discuss the new event. It was verbally decided that no dhols, sloganeering or posters of people would be permitted. Both hostels released a joint statement emphasising that the “pooja” would not take place.
According to reports, the principal and senior members of the college’s disciplinary committee took steps to make sure the “pooja” didn’t take place. They prevented boys from leaving the hostel on the night of February 13. Further, a singing and poetry programme was organised at the boys’ hostel, and the women students were invited as well.
On the morning of Valentine’s Day, students from both hostels decorated two trees, including the erstwhile Virgin Tree, with balloons and streamers. A few Pride posters were hung to include the queer community. However, a crowd of boys — hostelers and non-hosteliers — soon formed and began shouting slogans like "Jai mata di." The administration stepped in and asked them to stop.
But the situation began to escalate. Dhols were produced and played and the crowd marched towards the Virgin Tree. One student hung a poster of Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh from its branches. The crowd cheered. Students told Newslaundry the boy who hung the poster is not a member of the boys’ hostel, but is a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
The crowd then began to shout slogans like “Damdami mata ki jai” and the customary puja with the aarti took place. A planned Pride march didn’t happen. Even as the crowd of students shouted, the principal dispersed the group.
The decorated 'Virgin Tree'
A student studying political science at the college told Newslaundry, "As a woman I feel that no matter however I resist, whatever I try, I will be always reminded of my place in this patriarchal society. In this college women students are locked inside the hostel at 10 PM while men roam around chanting “Pooja Nahi toh danga hoga." I feel extremely exhausted and intimidated after all that has happened inside the college."
The boys then went into the boys’ hostel and began dancing and throwing colour at each other. The boys’ hostel president, Ujjawal, reportedly refused to take responsibility, saying he had resigned. A student from the boys' hostel said, "We followed whatever was agreed upon, to the best of our capacity, but there were external miscreants who defied the truce." A student of the chemistry department quipped, "All the men of the hostel are being targeted, and branded as molesters or perpetrators of rape culture, which is a gross generalisation."
Students told Newslaundry that members of the girls’ hostel and some other students were unhappy with what happened, and want strict disciplinary action to be taken against the students involved. The girls’ hostel also released an official statement which said:
"Despite expressing our apprehensions we were convinced that the reforms would be executed...We in the capacity of girls' hostel union feel disrespected and let down by the breach of trust we placed on the agreement which was signed with the involvement of the administration. We demand disciplinary action against all the people present there breaking the agreement and supporting the agreement breachers."
Some students staged a protest outside the college’s administrative block at about 1.30 pm, demanding quick and stringent action.
A student from the English department commented, "It was easily foreseeable that the space around the Tree will become uncontrollable and get charged with toxic masculinity. Men did everything that they were prohibited from doing. The administration couldn't stop it. It has become clear, time and again, that the traditions of the college are more important than the safety and the identity of its students."
Hindu College isn’t the only one to have regressive traditions related to Valentine’s Day. The boys’ hostel at St Stephen’s College used to have an “" — ANGA being the Allnutt North Gentlemen's Association – until recently. Members would take a pledge where they promise to “promote among them all misogyny”. This practice was effectively banned by the college administration last year.
Correction: The report erroneously mentioned that the HIV epidemic occurred in the 1960s. The reference has been removed. The error is regretted.