On February 14, a group of male students at Hindu College assembled near a tree for a ‘Virgin Tree Puja’ or ‘V-Tree Puja’ – an infamous ritual where worshipping a Bollywood celebrity is supposedly meant to help students lose their virginity within six months.
The college’s principal Anju Srivastava, students say, had called the event “sexist” and cancelled it. She also asked the students to celebrate an alternate event instead. However, the ritual eventually did take place amid opposition from the residents of the college’s girls hostel.
The v-tree puja, which has been taking place every year on February 14 since 1953, is widely considered offensive and misogynistic as it encourages the objectification of women. The puja involves a male student dressing up as a priest to perform religious rituals while other men sing hymns in praise of Damdami mai or a Bollywood actress of the worshippers’ choosing.
Series of events
Several weeks before Valentine’s Day, some residents of the girls’ hostel ran an awareness campaign to highlight the problems with the annual ritual. That’s when some male students allegedly started intimidating those opposed to the event.
“For the past one-month, boys have been shouting offensive slogans outside our hostel almost every night. The slogans were, “v-tree nahi to danga hoga”, “v-tree puja hoke rahegi”, “Hindu (college) humare aapka, nhi kisi ke baap ke”, “puja nhi to jagrata hoga” and so on,” said a female hosteller on the condition of anonymity.
According to the hostellers, when they complained to the warden, she asked them to stay inside fearing that the students might break the curfew.
The sloganeering, on the other hand, didn’t stop.
The female students then decided to send a letter to the principal, informing her about the sloganeering. The principal, after repeated appeals, called a meeting consisting of both male and female students to deliberate on the matter.
“The principal called the ritual highly problematic and said that it must be discontinued. But, when the male students opposed her decision, she asked the students to organise an alternate event for the day,” said a student, who was present at the meeting. Then, the students signed a joint statement in front of the principal agreeing to not hold the ‘v-tree puja’.
Then, on February 14, the male hostellers did the very opposite.
“When we came to college to decorate our college for the event, we saw a group of boys tying condom-filled balloons on the v-tree, hanging a huge poster of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone and singing the Damdami mai aarti. We were shocked to see them walking around and doing the puja and immediately went to the principal,” said a student.
The police, who were present on the campus in heavy numbers, also stood silent as the puja continued. “There was a heavy police deployment. We also saw the CRPF for the first few hours in the morning of February 14. Instead of taking any action against the boys who were shouting really bad slogans, they [police] were video-recording us while we were protesting the ritual,” said a protester.
‘We feel unsafe’
Students say that the college must take a zero-tolerance stance after the incident at Gargi College where several men gatecrashed the college’s annual fest and sexually assaulted students. The administration at Hindu College, students say, didn’t take this matter seriously.
“The campus had turned into a very intimidating and toxic space and we don’t feel safe anymore. Everything happened in the presence of the police and the administration and they were instead devising indirect ways to target us instead,” said a student.
Female students have decided to mobilise support from students across Delhi University to put an end to the regressive ritual.
LiveWire has written an email to the college’s principal about the puja taking place despite being cancelled. We will update the story as and when a response is received.
Featured image credit: Special arrangement