Hailstones and rain weren’t enough to dent the spirits of the protestors and the supporters of the ‘Virgin Tree Pooja’ in their respective efforts to advocate their causes.
The Hindu College’s ‘ritual’ or ‘tradition’ of worshipping the Virgin Tree aka V-tree every Valentine’s Day in hopes of losing one’s virginity was met with huge protests this year. Women’s Development Cells and gender forums of colleges across Delhi University stood in solidarity against the tradition, which is widely held as being sexist. This year there were slight modifications to the ceremony – instead of posters of one male and one female celebrity, a poster of a married couple of Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma was put up, along with a poster that read ‘love has no gender’.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, Pinjra Tod protested against the ceremony, demanding its cancellation this year. Protesters from various student organisations and Pinjra Tod gathered at and tried entering from gate number four of the college. The group was met with resistance and counter-sloganeering from the Hindu College boys’ hostel. Both parties claimed to have received threats from each other.
Around midnight, the residents of the girls’ hostel managed to break the curfew and joined the protest against the tradition. According to a Facebook post by Pinjra Tod, Dr Anju Srivastava, the Principal of the college, attempted to enter the college premises around 3 a.m.; she later congratulated the residents of the boys’ hostel for ‘keeping the tradition alive’ while threatening the residents of the women’s hostel for breaking the curfew. Police present at the time of the incident tried controlling the situation.
The first round of the ritual was conducted at 6 a.m. on 14th of February fearing backlash and protests later. As the hours passed and the weather turned worse, Hindu College saw dissenters and supporters gathering around the Virgin Tree. The Hindu College Progressive Front (HCPF) got in a heated argument with members from the boys hostel. Students from Pinjra Tod and Students’ Federation of India (SFI) also turned up in protest. Clashing slogans of ‘azadi’, ‘puja ho ke rahegi!’, ‘nahi sahenge’ echoed through the college.
The views of the crowds were split. On one hand there were clear advocates of the pooja, while on the other there were fierce protestors. Even among those who were opposed to the pooja, some didn’t appreciate the involvement of non-Hinduite protestors, while others objected to the manner in which the protests turned out to be.
The aarti was performed in a hurry while some men encircled the tree, preventing any protesters from barging in as the Mr. Fresher of the hostel, Shaurya Pratap Singh performed the rituals. “This V-Tree pooja became the grandest in the history of Hindu College”, said Shaurya Pratap Singh, the boys’ hostel Mr Fresher who did the pooja. “We decided to modify the pooja, but despite us cooperating, Pinjra Tod came last night and started sloganeering,” he said. Singh alleged that some students from the boys’ hostel who were defending the pooja were “beaten up” and “harassed”. Allegations of intimidation and confrontation were mutual between the opposing parties. Instances of fist fights were also seen during the ritual.
Ananya Bhardwaj, who led the HCPF during the college parliamentary elections and was on the forefront of the day’s protest, said, “Today is a victory because just the symbolic act of men leaving a public space and going back to their private space is a victory today we reclaimed the public space”. Asked about what was the objective they wanted to achieve, she said, “We just had to create a fear in these men that you cannot lay claim to our bodies and lay claim to spaces which also belong to us, which we did.” Diya, a student representing Pinjra Tod told us about similar objectives, saying that the idea was to not let the pooja go unchallenged and uninterrupted. The Prime Minister of the college Parliament, Shreyash Mishra, commented that the original intention of the pooja was to break the taboo towards condoms, which he appreciated, along with the modifications brought in to the ceremony this time by the hostel union.
Moral victories were claimed by both sides. Both ended up celebrating by dancing to dhols and shouting slogans of their preference. The police stood on standby as students celebrated.
As the dust settled and normalcy is restored, a few questions still hang in the air. Does merely adding a rainbow heart to a sexist ritual make it acceptable? Do Hindu College boys’ hostel union claim to be truly progressive only because they include a “Love Guru” in addition to “Damdami Mata”, but stay absent when the girls’ hostel in their own college fights against curfew? Should a decade’s old unique ritual, that adds vibrancy and character to a place, be completely removed instead of being reformed? What modifications are needed and should be accepted? What can be the correct ways of protesting and initiating dialoge? Who decides what’s correct?
Image Credits: Pinjra Tod, unknown sources, and Prateek Pankaj for DU Beat
Feature Image Credits: Prateek Pankaj for DU Beat