For three whole days last week, all of IIT Delhi was immersed in the festivities of Rendezvous: the offline fest we’d been waiting for for over two years. The preparation on the backend, however, had been going on for much longer. To pull off a fest as big as Rendezvous involves months of hard work, dedicated effort by a huge organising team and most importantly, enormous monetary support from an army of sponsors.
In this particular edition of RDV, certain sponsorship deals came under the lens and raised many eyebrows as students clashed with the marketing team. Many students pointed out that some contractual obligations and deliverables were inappropriate and problematic. Soon various student bodies got involved, complaints were raised, and the administration had to finally step in to resolve the issues. The issue we refer to, as the entire student body is now aware, is the sponsorship deal with the Dil Mil app.
Dil Mil was announced as one of the official sponsors (“Official Dating Partner”) of Rendezvous 2022 on 8 April. It was also the exclusive sponsor for two highly anticipated events: “Speed Dating” and “Prom Night”. Dil Mil is a South Asian dating application catering only to Indian women and NRI men, which claims to be the “most efficient and advanced South Asian matchmaking platform” on its website.
As the preparations for the fest were in full swing, registration forms for Rendezvous events of the Quizzing Club were released. In those forms, a compulsory clause was to download Dil Mil, make a profile, and upload the screenshots of one’s profile to be able to participate in any given event. Certain external participants raised concerns in their quizzing circles, which then reached members of Indradhanu, the queer collective of IIT Delhi.
At the time, Indradhanu was already working on getting the posters for Rendezvous’ prom night changed; these posters featured a heterosexual couple, and the forms had to be compulsorily filled by girls, effectively excluding couples of certain sexual orientations. They approached the RDV organising team, who agreed to change the posters and allow entries of people from all sexual orientations and gender identities in the event.
As this was transpiring, a meeting was held in SAC, as informed by an attendee, where all the female BRCA representatives and Activity Heads were instructed to download and create profiles on the Dil Mil app. Some students raised concerns and expressed discomfort; however, few took up the issue. When approached, the coordinators passed the issue on to the Core Team Members (CTMs); however, no prompt action was taken. The team continued to emphasise that downloading and registering on the app was mandatory for all.
Soon there were reports and rumours of a clause in the MoU signed with Dil Mil in which the RDV team promised new female registrations on the Dil Mil app for a certain portion of the sponsorship amount. Indradhanu took up this issue, and eventually, on the 22nd of April, it raised a complaint with the Initiative for Gender Equity and Sensitisation (IGES) IIT Delhi. While the document itself has remained elusive, the clause has been confirmed by some members of the RDV team to BSP on the condition of anonymity - the majority of the amount linked to the deal, they told BSP, was to be given unconditionally before the event, while a certain percentage was promised against female profiles.
On receiving a tepid response from IGES, who claimed to have no authority in the case, members of Indradhanu approached professors from the Humanities and Social Sciences department as a last resort. It was finally then that the situation was brought to the notice of the President of BRCA. "The BRCA President is officially supposed to sign off on all MoUs. So one morning, a stack of MoUs was sent to them, and they gave the go ahead for all, including the Dil Mil one," stated a coordinator.
Soon the student body received a mail from Prof. Sandeep Jha, the President of the Board for Recreational and Cultural Activities (BRCA), taking note of the complaints raised, dispelling some of the rumours and misinformation being spread and promising prompt action. “We are heading to SAC to meet the RDV team to listen to their side of the story.”, the email said.
The entire fiasco culminated in yet another mail from the BRCA president that announced the termination of Dil Mil as a sponsor and the cancellation of its exclusive event, Speed Dating. The official reason cited was students being underage, even though the registration forms for the event asked for proof of age. “We’ll take a decision on ‘Promnite’ soon after studying its legalities,” the email said, and a few days later, Dil Mil’s second exclusive event was also cancelled, though partially, if not entirely, because of COVID guidelines. The criterion mandating Dil Mil downloads was removed from all external and internal forms, and students were advised to delete their profiles from the app. However, the complaints about VIP Pronite passes were revealed to be a misunderstanding. “The VIP passes were not Pronite passes; rather they were the premium passes of the Dil Mil app being offered for free as an incentive to download the app,” the core team underlined.
“Neither Indradhanu, nor IGES, were made privy to the discussions in the meeting,” the IGES as well as a few members of Indradhanu clarified.
Geeta Thatra, a senior consultant at Initiative for Gender Equity and Sensitisation (IGES), told BSP that IGES and Indradhanu kept pressurising the president to look into the matter of getting the data of the students deleted from the backend, as simple deletion of a profile didn’t ensure that all the data that had been uploaded to the application at the time of making the profile was completely removed from the servers of the application. “We were promised by the administration and the team that they would look into this matter to get it resolved,” she said.
While Dil Mil was brought into the spotlight because of its unseemly commodification of women, the past few months have seen multiple instances of students being forced to download applications such as Probo or Yelow to attend certain events. Phishing emails have been circulated that claimed to sell NFT pronite passes on the Binance app and demanded PAN card details to confirm the bookings. Such instances elicited further clarifications from the BRCA President invalidating such requirements and became a recurring point of conflict between the attendees and organisers.
The Inside Scoop
In order to understand what really happened within the team when they started receiving complaints and objections, and find out more about the concerned sponsorship agreement, we approached multiple CTMs to ask them about their side of the story.
We inquired about the complaints that the BRCA President, Prof. Sandeep Jha, received and what the administration told the team. One of the CTMs said, “On 22nd April around 7 or 8 pm, we received messages from Prof. Jha calling a meeting about Dil Mil’s sponsorship. In the meeting, he said that he had received some complaints from faculty members and students. One of the complaints was about the restriction that only girls could fill the form for Prom Night. We explained that it was done to avoid unruly incidents of catfishing that had occurred in previous editions of the fest. However, the team proactively resolved this and edited the poster and form to make the event inclusive of people of diverse sexual orientations. He was convinced by our arguments.”
On being asked about the data privacy concerns in apps like Yelow, we were assured by the RDV team that data privacy would be maintained. No further elaboration was given.
The CTMs also told us that downloading the apps was voluntary, and no one was forced to do so. “If such an incident occurred, then we condemn it. However, we do not think it is wrong to ask someone to download an app voluntarily.” One CTM highlighted that even though the team had cleared all the miscommunication and misunderstanding regarding the VIP passes and entry to Prom, the administration still ordered them to cut ties with Dil Mil and also cancelled the two events without communicating the reasons behind the move.
Regarding the branding of Dil Mil seen during Pronites even after it was dropped as a sponsor, the CTM clarified that since all of the posters and banners had already been printed much earlier, the branding of Dil Mil was already there on them. Moreover, the CTM claimed that even the team was unaware of what the administration had conveyed to Dil Mil since they had directly connected Dil Mil to the admin.
Through all this discussion, the dissatisfaction of the organising team also became apparent. One CTM expressed displeasure that the administration sent an email to the student body without discussing it with the Rendezvous team. “That email painted us in a bad light. Not everyone was involved or even aware about the deal made with Dil Mil, and calling out the entire team for women's exploitation was unjustified.”
On the matter of forcing students to download apps to attend events, the core team explained, "The number of new registrations is an absolute number generally offered as a deliverable. This is something that we can deliver before the fest. It ensures that some of the sponsorship amount reaches us earlier since many of the fest payments must be made before the events. In 2019, this app was TikTok, and since we couldn’t complete the deliverables, we made people download the app at the Pronite gates.”
However, the team members refused to comment on many of our questions. For instance, when directly asked about the MoU signed with Dil Mil, the CTMs declined to answer. We were also not offered any clarity on the meeting where the female representatives and activity heads were coerced to download Dil Mil.
The Underlying Concerns
BSP reached out to Hrithik Jain, a branding specialist and an alumnus of the Mudra Institute Of Communications, Ahmedabad, to gain insights into ethical marketing practices and whether the contracts with these companies were actually ethical or in good faith.
“To create an excellent, free-of-charge experience for the students in any fest, sponsors are brought in that provide funds in return for some deliverables. These deliverables are in terms of quantifiable potential growth of their brand, such as the total number of app downloads, registrations and active users, which can be quoted to investors or advertisers down the line. Thus, asking for app downloads in exchange for sponsorship money is a prevalent practice,” Jain stated.
He went on to explain that usually, downloading apps such as e-commerce platforms for a brief period is not that big a deal, even if people don’t directly relate to it. However, there is a level of potential discomfort attached to dating apps like Dil Mil that deal with interpersonal relationships, which might make people feel like their privacy is being violated. This also holds for Probo, which is not available on the Playstore, giving the impression of some sort of a risk associated with it, or Yelow, where personal data is being collected in the form of Aadhar card and Pan card details.
“The sponsors failed to foresee how the student community would receive their apps. In the case of all three of these apps, forcing downloads from people who didn’t believe in the concept would lead to discomfort and resentment, as explained earlier. This was not the best marketing initiative on their end, and even students organising the fest should’ve predicted this and never agreed to such absurd demands in the first place. The onus lies on both sides in this case,” Jain noted.
“There was an evident lack of gender sensitivity among the students involved in this process. Probably, if we had a significant number of females in positions of power in the team, this agreement with the dating application would have been invalidated or at least the problem would have been identified much prior to the conduction of the event. We introduce this concept of critical mass here, which talks about how in order to sensitise a large mass about a particular case of discrimination against a group, we require a significantly proportional number of representatives who can sympathise with or are part of the group being discriminated against. This will increase the number of voices wanting to highlight the problem in the community and make it more prominent to the public,” Thatra said on the possible causal inferences of the entire situation.
Written and Interviewed by: Afreen Haider, Nikhil Gupta, Pratham Pahuja, Sana Kumar, Stuti Lohani, Tushar Srivastava
Graphic Designed by: Tushar Kant Sao