By Kunzes Goba
The annual Damdami Mai mock puja takes place on Valentine’s Day, in a well-frequented quadrangle of Hindu College of the University of Delhi, with several male students gathering by a tree, praying that they lose their virginity within a year. Not dissimilar to a pantomime, the preparations are theatrical, from Mr. Fresher dressing up like a pandit, to the condom balloons hanging from the tree’s branches, to the focus of the event, a large poster of a Bollywood actress, chosen by votes collected from the boys’ hostel.
Pinjra Tod recently wrote a letter, slamming the event as “just another trope which objectifies women” and dismissing any claims that it represents “innocent humour”. Their protest tells an uncomfortable truth. No matter how playful the atmosphere of the event, it is based on a patriarchal view of sexuality. Virginity as a concept was created to slut shame women. With the aarti having lyrics like ’36-24-36 yeh teri kaya… gaano pe thumke lagata’, the objectification is hardly subtle.
“You should see the way they bring him in,” says Aaliya Waziri, a former student of Hindu College, about the chosen fresher who performs the puja. “They bring him in on their shoulders, and he’s wearing a kesariya robe.” When I ask if the event mocks similar rituals, she informs me that the “intricacies” are well taken care of. “This one year they chose a boy on the basis that he knew a little Sanskrit,” confirming that there’s an effort made to embolden the event with authenticity.
A final year student of Hindu college recounts a moment of epiphany. “Couple of weeks ago I had my period,” she says. “I was looking for a sanitary napkin. None of the vending machines I tried were working.” No one can blame her for noticing the irony. It is the same place which gives utmost care to the ‘worship’ of the female body, but only in the scenario that allows it to be used as a tool.
With the opening of the girls hostel last year, the organisers have had to make one adjustment alone – adding a poster of a male actor. The student calls this, as well as the claims that the condoms stand for AIDs awareness and safe sex “tokenism”.
Her statement is justified, especially with another college being in trouble for similar reasons. Pinjra Tod uploaded a video of the St. Stephens’s boys hostel, the Allnutt North Gentlemen’s Association (ANGA), performing an oath whose words promise “to promote among them all misogyny”. Here is the video:
Even with the superficial manner with which Hindu and Stephens try to satiate any protest, with the ANGA oath having now removed “two problematic lines”, the problem lies in the foundation of these customs and the hereditary manner with which they are continued. The belief that anything traditional holds some sort of moral and cultural upper hand is pervasive, and in the case of social rituals and clubs catering to men, gives free rein to rampant misogyny. One only needs to look at the reports of sexual assault in campuses all over the USA, even in prestigious places like Harvard. In the 2014 British drama ‘The Riot Club’, director Lone Scherfig portrays a much censored version of the real life Bullingdon Club, a ‘dining club’ for male undergraduates. Former members of the Club have come forward with accounts exposing the misogynist culture which was inherent to the club.
The social and political environment in colleges all around the world are changing. The ability to celebrate love and sexuality in public might be a fun and lighthearted event for college boys, but in that very act they enjoy a privilege, which they have not recognised.