Several decades have passed, but the infamous Virgin tree puja of Hindu College continues to propagate ideas of sexism, Brahminical patriarchy and objectification of women in the campus every Valentine’s Day. In the last few years, women students have started raising their voice against the puja that sees women as objects and promotes the idea of certain beauty standards for women. Associate professor from commerce department of the college, Poonam Sethi, calls this tradition a big blot on the thought-process of Hindu College's student community.
So what exactly is this V-tree puja? On every V-Day, the first year boy students and hostellers gather around an old tree in the college campus. One boy dresses up as a Pandit, wearing a “Janeu”, and performs a puja to the gods made out of Bollywood actors—different actor every year. They sing an aarti to the Damdami Mai, named after a chosen heroine and pray to find a girlfriend within six weeks of the puja and lose their virginity.
Year after year, voices of dissent by women students against this atrocious 'tradition' that sexualizes and objectifies women as objects of male desire and reeks of Brahminical ritual practices of caste pride, have been aggressively silenced. “Women have been told to learn how to take a 'joke', we have been warned against being so 'radical', against behaving like 'feminazis', we have been shamed for being 'conservative' and not understanding the rather noble cause of AIDS awareness and sex positivism that this tradition apparently seeks to promote,” said a Pinjra Tod statement.
As the voices of protest kept growing in strength over the years against this sexist practice, the male organisers of the puja even came up with a gesture of demonstrating 'equality'. They decided to ‘allow’ even women to select a male actor as their very own "Love Guru" for worship. This year, Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma are chosen as the love gods.
However, members of the Pinjra Tod collective marched towards the Hindu College campus and disrupted the puja. They condemned the administration for not stopping such sexist practices.
Professor Sethi is the former warden of boys' hostel of Hindu College. She revealed how during her tenure, she sought the administration's support to put an end to the puja, but in vain. “Incidentally, it is done by the hostel union but they argued that the warden does not have any control outside the hostel premises. They said that it is our tradition and we will continue it because it’s a centuries-old tradition. They are just doing this because it’s an old ritual without applying their minds and moving ahead with times."
"The principal also never wants to disrupt the tradition, because she doesn’t want to appear to be dissenting in front of the students. All these years, they have done little to control it, they just increase police vigilance for the duration of the puja and that’s about it. The administration also plays smart games to ensure they don’t get a bad reputation and it has failed in doing the needful in this issue,” she added.
A third year student of the college, Abhinav Ahuja, defended the ritual and said that it is a gender-neutral tradition. “The tradition has been done for years. It is unrelated with misogyny. V-tree puja is an internal ritual Hindu College is known for."
"Personally, I can say that this is an equivalent tradition for both boys and girls because for the last three years there has been no show of male-dominance in the puja. People felt that it wasn’t right to just have a female actor’s photo, so we included a male actor’s photo too,” Ahuja said.
"The principal also never wants to disrupt the tradition because she doesn’t want to appear to be dissenting in front of the students. All these years, they have done little to control it, they just increase police vigilance for the duration of the puja and that’s about it."
Another former student of Hindu College who graduated last year, Joyeeta, said that until 2018, there was no resistance from girl students of the college. “In fact, everyone favoured it, but this time a lot of women along with Pinjra Tod members are protesting against it. Because of awareness on social media, the whole masculine culture of Hindu College is being questioned, which is why the resistance too.”
The women students of Delhi University and universities across the country are waking up to sexism and misogyny that have been normalized in their campuses and are fighting against it. This is the beginning of a strong women students’ movement helmed by the Pinjra Tod collective and it aims to fight every patriarchal structure of the university—whether it is ingrained in university laws or in such archaic traditions like the Virgin tree puja.