The Virgin tree worship has been celebrated for the past 70 years on 14th February, Valentine’s Day by the right-wing students and the men hostellers. Delhi University’s Hindu College witnessed the victory of ‘inclusivity over patriarchy’ as the students from various organisations of the college ended the misogynistic tradition of ‘virgin tree pooja’ this Valentine’s Day.
This sexist, Brahmanical ritual is practised every valentine’s day where they stick posters of female actresses based on their “sex appeal” on a particular tree (virgin tree) and call them ‘Damdami Mai’. Men hang condoms filled with water and perform the ritual chanting slogans fetishising and objectifying the female body.
The ritual is offered by ‘Mr Fresher’ of the men’s hostel dressed as a Brahmin priest wearing the sacred janeu and celebrating the myth of virginity and the misogynistic concept of women’s purity believing that they will lose their virginity in six months. After students protested against this two years back, pictures of men or couples and pride flags were also pasted on the virgin tree which was highly tokenistic and didn’t alter the basic patriarchal structure of the ritual.
Worshipping the virgin tree is a celebration of male aggression and female objectification. The men worshipping V- tree see women as mere objects they need to ‘attain’ within the next six months. The chants they recite are examples of objectification of the female body as they sexually describe the size of the female body they desire to attain. Men celebrate their sexuality rather aggressively by dancing, taking their shirts off and throwing water-filled condoms at students to determine the status of their virginity.
The objectification and male gaze in the event make the campus unsafe for female students. This heteronormative concept disrupts the safe existence of gender minorities among students. Besides, virgin tree ritual is laced with casteism. The Brahmanical practice of ritual is performed by someone dressed in ritual garb and wearing a janeu like upper caste Hindu men which powers the right-wing propaganda which is slowly expanding to educational spaces.
Over the past years, resistance against this sexist tradition has been registered on the part of certain student unions. This year the concerned students became successful in setting out a new tradition to celebrate inclusivity instead of the aggressive celebration of masculinity. Students carried out an anti-virgin tree campaign around the campus one week before valentine’s day. They interacted with fellow students and distributed parchas explaining the problematics of misogyny in virgin tree ritual.
As a part of the campaign, various student organisations including the Women’s Development Cell, Students Federation of India and Hindu College Queer Collective collectively conducted a gender sensitisation session inside the college where the students interacted and discussed the misogynistic tradition and how it makes the campus unsafe for gender minorities. The activists observed that most Hindu college students didn’t want the virgin tree worship to happen on campus.
More than a hundred students attended the gender sensitisation session and a memorandum with 110 student signatures was prepared for submission to the administration requesting to prevent the ritual from happening. Even though the administration refused to accept the memorandum students registered their resistance against the right-wing propaganda. The Hindu college administration charges 10 Rupees from each student as something called a ‘sexual harassment fee’ and rejected the students’ attempts of trying to have a dialogue with them several times regarding the safety of gender minorities in the college.
On 14th February, students from various organisations of the Hindu college decided to conduct a ‘celebration of inclusivity’ by painting inclusive messages. Students in favour of virgin tree worship put up some pictures of Bollywood actors which were removed later by the administration. From the morning itself, the concerned students tried to prevent the ritual as they informed the admin every time the misogynist group tried to host the event.
Thus, posters of the female actress (called Damdami Mai) were taken down. Right-wing students were also caught while filling condoms with water. After this was repeated several times, right-wing students started shouting misogynistic slogans on the campus. They shouted sexist chants portraying Damdami Mai which was countered by more than 150 students sloganeering ‘Nari mukti zindabad’. The students gathered together and painted sketches of Savitri Bhai Phule and Gauri Lankesh as well as wrote slogans of inclusivity and intersectionality.
“What we observed during the campaign against virgin tree was that most Students were already against this vile practice. Those who weren’t aware, when they were told about it, agreed instantly that such practices shouldn’t take place in an educational space like Hindu. Talking to students gave us hope and this 14th February we saw a new campus. A better campus. Hopefully, this tradition of love will continue and will keep on getting bigger.”Puneet, a final year student of Hindu college
Student representatives addressed the gathering, emphasising the significance of a healthy educational environment promoting gender plurality and gender equality. The administration never stopped the misogynistic chanting yet they wanted the protesters to stop painting Savitri Bhai Phule and Gauri Lankesh. Right-wing students also tried to stop the event by playing loud music to silence the slogans of inclusivity.
However, the student movement emerged victorious by putting an end to virgin tree worship as well as setting out a new tradition to celebrate inclusivity on Valentine’s Day every year. They declared that every year students will gather and remember progressive figures who changed the course of Indian history altogether. Students ended the celebration successfully with the revolutionary song “Voh hamari geet” which says ‘they are scared of the art we create and the politics we espouse’.
“What we observed during the campaign against virgin tree was that most Students were already against this vile practice. Those who weren’t aware, when they were told about it, agreed instantly that such practices shouldn’t take place in an educational space like Hindu. Talking to students gave us hope and this 14th February we saw a new campus. A better campus. Hopefully, this tradition of love will continue and will keep on getting bigger.” Puneet, a final year student of Hindu college said in a conversation with FII.
The safe existence of women and other gender minorities is being questioned in university spaces. On 6 February 2020, a group of intoxicated men entered Gargi College for women during the annual cultural fest and assaulted the students. A similar incident happened inside the Miranda House campus on 14th October 2022 during the Diwali fest when male students from other colleges barged into the campus without permission and harassed female students. In this scenario, the victory of concerned students of Hindu College is a milestone in the history of student movements against patriarchal forces at the University of Delhi.
Observing the current political realm of the nation, it is evident that the public educational spaces have been saffronised using right-wing propaganda. Educational policies are dangerously rewritten by people with the power which makes higher education less accessible to Dalit and other minority communities, making the campus a Savarna patriarchal space. Ending the 70-year history of sexist V- tree worship and ensuring a safe environment for women and other gender minorities in public educational institutes is indeed a victory over the saffron patriarchal propaganda. Student movements like this will fuel the struggle against patriarchy, intolerance, marginalisation and saffronisation across the country.