Colleges and college campuses mean the world to us when we’re students. We study, eat, and practically live in them. They serve as spaces to grow, learn, and find friends. It goes without saying that they must serve as safe spaces. Of late, in India, discrimination and outright abuse have become rampant issues in educational institutions, often compromising the safety of young students. There is also the problem of misogyny and sexist regulations, which are not only unfair, but also indicative of a deep-seated, regressive attitude on the part of authorities. And these issues are prevalent even in the most reputed institutions.
On February 15, a video featuring boys from the Allnutt North Gentleman’s Association (ANGA) residence of St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi went viral. In it, they can be seen taking an oath, which we are told is part of an annual tradition at the Association.
The oath includes the following lines:
“We the people of ANGA,
Have solemnly resolved
To Constitute ANGA
Into a Paramount Egalitarian Fellowship
And to Secure to all its members-
Justice- Social, Sexual and Sentimental
Liberty- to philander exclusively with men
Equality- of status and opportunity
And to promote among them all misogyny
Assuring the dignity of the individual
And the unity of ANGA
In a country such as ours, making light of prejudice against and contempt for women only makes the goal of gender equality more difficult to achieve. Especially when you claim that you will achieve the dignity of individuals by putting down a whole gender.
Namitha Sadanand, an ex-student of St. Stephen’s, says that this oath-taking ceremony has been conducted for years. She says that the men of this particular boy’s hostel block are led by their warden, a retired professor called Dr. David Baker, in this tradition. “It’s supposed to be a joke about giving up women on Valentine’s Day. But the actual oath is quite disturbing,” she says. She adds that the men participating in it may not realise the effect of what they are saying; that they think it is a joke.
Sameer Gardner, another alumnus, calls the oath “a problematic tradition that refuses to die out”. Kartik Maini, yet another ex-student, adds that ANGA is considered “prestigious” because of its set of traditions and spectacular alumni. He says that Dr. Baker has always dismissed opposition to the oath, citing that it is “harmless”.
A twenty-year-old male student of St. Stephen’s, who wishes to remain anonymous, sheds light on the possibility that the students may have been forced to participate in this oath taking ceremony; that they may not have done so of their own volition. “I suspect that Dr. Baker forces the boys to follow the tradition. There are residencies at stake, and students have to do all sorts of things to keep them,” he explains, emphasising that not participating in such “traditions” may even amount to losing a place to stay at in the campus. “When something as ridiculous as this is happening in our college, it is of course a problem. We claim to be one of the country’s best colleges, after all,” he adds.
This source also says that when it comes to feminist activism on campus, male students aren’t very proactive. “Boys don’t care for feminism. And I think that does have a role to play when it comes to traditions such as these. When you let words such as those to come out of your mouth, the problem starts there,” he says. Namitha echoes his sentiments. “The general tendency of the men in college was to dismiss feminism as an overreaction. For example, even when there were protests against the locking up of women, most men said it was for our own safety. They are either dismissive or just ignorant, really,” she says. She adds that the authorities often reinforce such attitudes.
Anisha Prakash, another student of St. Stephen’s, says that the general environment when it comes to gender equality is largely peaceful on campus. “I say this with the conviction that if I were a day scholar, and not in residence, I wouldn’t experience such brazen displays of gender discrimination. Also, my professors, the wonderful feminists that they are, perfectly fit in the ideal of college in my mind before I came here. So in the daytime, it’s a liberal space designed to accommodate everyone and encourage progressive thought, but by night time (in residence), it is back to the real world, or so to say,” she says. Anisha absolutely condemns the oath.
However, not everyone has an objection to this tradition or its wording. A female St. Stephen’s student, who wishes to be anonymous, says that she does not see this oath as being problematic because it is “just a tradition”. “Nobody, not even the ones who are saying those words, believe in them. They definitely aren’t promoting anything. I know it sounds ridiculous when a bunch of men say those words, but it doesn’t really hold any significance to anybody,” she explains.
Meanwhile, ANGA has responded to the social media uproar over the oath in one Facebook post:
We, however, fail to understand how this is a “mockery of institutionalised inequality”.