Scenes from March 28 shows men trying to enter Indraprastha College for Women, which is affiliated with the 101-year-old Delhi University.
After three long pandemic years, Ananya Singh, a final-year journalism student, was excited about finally going to her annual college festival. On March 28, she was among hundreds of students gathered at Indraprastha College for Women, which is affiliated with the 101-year-old Delhi University, in Indian’s capital. There was food, games and music. At 3 PM, the venue hit maximum capacity and the gates were closed. Outside, a crowd of thousands gathered fast.
It was mostly men—and then they came for the women. “Many women were groped,” Singh, who requested a pseudonym over concerns about receiving sexist abuse for speaking out, told VICE World News. She said that things escalated when men started scaling the walls and entered the campus, creating a stampede-like situation. They catcalled, harassed and, at one point, even spat at some college volunteers for locking them outside. Many were drunk, said Singh. The college administration ushered the women students into their dorms and locked the doors. “It was terrifying. We were locked up inside our hostel rooms out of absolute terror. This is supposed to be our safe space. On the other hand, these men roamed freely in our campus,” the 21-year-old said. The police came only after two hours, she added.
The incident has sparked massive protests from students from across Delhi University colleges. As students demand accountability and security, they’re calling attention to a long-term pattern of misogyny and violence on their campuses, often without any action from authorities. A 2018 safety audit conducted by the the National Students’ Union of India found that one in four women studying at Delhi University colleges have faced sexual harassment, including groping, lewd gestures, staring and vulgar comments.
“Delhi is not a welcoming place for women,” Singh said. Delhi is India’s most unsafe city for women. A UN Women survey found that 95 percent of women and girls feel unsafe in Delhi’s public spaces, while a 2022 World Bank report found that 88 percent of surveyed women in Delhi faced sexual harassment in public spaces. Nilabja, another student of Indraprastha College, who requested the use of just her first name due to fears of being subject to sexist abuse, told VICE World News that there’s a larger culture in Delhi of men fetishising women’s colleges, often unapologetically. “It’s a kind of achievement for men to penetrate through safe and secure spaces meant for women,” she said. “Last week, when this situation was unfolding, one guy who was told to leave said, ‘Why should I go? I came to see women, I’ll do exactly that.’”On Tuesday, the college registered an official police complaint alleging trespassing and the harassment of female students. The college also issued a much-criticised statement on the incident, calling what the women faced an “inconvenience” by an unruly mob. The college has formed a committee to look into the incident.
“The committee shall also analyse the lapses which have taken place during the organisation of the fest and will also suggest precautionary measures to be taken by the management of the college to ensure that such unfortunate incidents are not repeated in future,” the statement said. One student VICE World News spoke to on condition of anonymity called the college statement a joke and accused the college administration of downplaying the incident. The student quoted a professor as saying during the incident, “Get rid of the girls and the men will disappear too”, while another teacher said, “These things happen at festivals.”
Seven men have been arrested for trespassing at Indraprastha College last week. The Delhi Commission for Women, a government body tasked with protecting the rights and interests of women in the city, issued a notice to Delhi Police and the college principal seeking action. Swati Maliwal, the Delhi women’s commission chief, highlighted in a statement that incidents such as this are not isolated. In October, men scaled the wall of Miranda House, another one of Delhi University’s women-only colleges, during a festival and harassed students. In 2020, several men barged into Gargi College, a women-only college affiliated with Delhi University, and flashed, groped and verbally harassed students.
In 2018, students from two different women-only colleges reported being attacked with semen-filled balloons during Holi, a Hindu festival of colour that often transgresses into sexual violence against women in public spaces. This wasn’t even the first incident of its kind at Indraprastha College. In 2007, a mob of men—many of whom were examinees in the vicinity to take tests to join the police—attacked students at the college and molested them. Over the decades, Delhi University’s colleges have also hosted sexist rituals and practices. At its Hindu College, male students pray to a “virgin tree” and put up photos of women with the hopes of losing their virginity within six months. At St Stephens’ College, men traditionally took an “oath” to promote all forms of misogyny—a practice that ended in 2019 after much backlash. Even efforts to supposedly protect women from harassment have resulted in the implementation of sexist rules, and in 2018, student collective Pinjra Tod (which translates to ‘Break the Cage’) protested against curfews installed just for female students at colleges in Delhi.At Indraprastha College, Nilabja said that their protests will go on indefinitely. “Movements like ours aim to confront misogyny that’s been normalised,” she said. “During our protests, we’re being told, ‘These things happen’ or that they’ll ban men from our campus. But that’s not our point. Women have the right to mingle with society in a normal way, not be imposed with restrictions.”“This is much more than Indraprastha College,” Nilabja added. “This is about pushing back against the culture of misogyny in this country.”Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.