From being afraid to go to the washroom to being chased up, beaten down and sexually harassed by a group of boys for being gay or for being just feminine! Apparently, the National Commission For Protection of Child's Rights (NCPCR) turned their heads away from these children and their situations just because their sexuality, behaviour or gender identity might be different.
Recently, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) released a gender-neutral teacher training manual to which NCPCR's response made headlines. The manual contained information on gender diversity and instructions on sensitisation of teachers regarding transgender, gender non-conforming and nonbinary children. NCPCR opposed the manual and issued a complaint against it, and the manual was taken down from the website.
The article made many claims, one of which was that "gender-neutral infrastructure for children does not commensurate with their gender realities and basic needs." The chairperson of the commission also stated that gender-neutral toilets could lead to an increase in sexual assault cases. Even though we have zero proven statistical data about the increase in sexual assault in these spaces from countries and places that incorporated gender-neutral toilets in their infrastructure! Gender-neutral toilets don't necessarily mean confined areas. They can very well be just single stalled bathrooms as we have in our homes.
"I was made to do things in the school washrooms by the boys of my class that I cannot speak about. I was being sexually abused! Where was NCPCR then?" asks a discreet homosexual college student from Chhattisgarh. Not just him. Many cisgender men who might or might not belong to the queer community faced such abuses in schools and especially washrooms just because they displayed feminine behaviour or were different in their behaviour against the stereotypical image of how men should behave. These victims choose not to tell anybody of the incidents because they fear that their identities might be revealed to their orthodox parents. Where proper awareness of queer identities and gender identities is missing in not just children but also in the staff members of the school, these abuses would continue to happen under the curtains of schools. It then becomes necessary to create a queer-friendly environment in schools.
NCPCR also stated that "this approach will expose children to unnecessary psychological trauma due to contradictory environments in schools and in homes."
Shivli Shrivastava, a psychologist and sexuality educator from Raipur, claims that "Well, as a psychologist, I know that any judgement-free and informed education, if taught correctly, would never traumatise any young person. As a Sexuality Educator, I can say that we need to make sure that the education is age-appropriate. If these things are taken care of, mental and sexual health education can be done in a helpful manner, which impacts the healthy growth of young people of our country!" Many psychologists who choose not to reveal their names in the article also called the claims of NCPCR ridiculous, misinformed and baseless. According to them, the complaint was filed by people who were biased and misinformed and were politically driven rather than being actually concerned for children.
According to Vishal Pinjani, the founder of Abhimaan Kolhapur, a group working for LGBTQIA rights in the city of Kolhapur, "It becomes necessary to sensitise children on gender and sexuality because it is much better that they are taught about these things in schools in a sex-positive manner than them finding it out on their own, through means such as the internet, which could be dangerous." He also adds that there are many things that are taught in schools that are not being followed in our homes and are contradictory. He says, "For example, a girl child should be treated equally, but that is not the case in so many homes. Or for example, we are taught to segregate waste, but rarely it is the value seen in Indian homes. That doesn't mean that we stop teaching these values to children. A school is a place we go to become better human beings. That does include challenging our own ideas and beliefs, and there are going to be such differences in what we learn in schools versus what we see in our houses."
So, we arrive at a point where we are made to question whether the concerns of NCPCR regarding gender and queer sensitisation in schools hold any substance or are they just a way to align with the current homophobic and transphobic political situation of our country. We must question whether we want the children of our country to be as orthodox and uninformed as the people sitting in power and position.
Anish Gawande, the curator of Pink List India, comments that "The claims made against the progressive NCERT manual for gender sensitisation by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights are both disproportionate and baseless." He also goes on to say, "The NCPCR is importing transphobia into Indian classrooms. Moves to make toilets gender-neutral, improve access to mental health resources for gender non-conforming children, and enhance the use of gender-inclusive language have been opposed by the NCPCR. Schools must independently read the NCERT manual and implement it to ensure that their students can grow up in a safe and nurturing environment."
Keeping politics aside, even if we focus on the most intrinsic value of humanity, we come to learn the importance of spreading awareness about alternate sexualities and gender identities. It helps in eliminating the fears and traumas of LGBTQ children. It sets the ground for a progressive nation, one where equality holds substance. It also reduces the chances of hate crimes that take place in our country against queer and transgender individuals. It destigmatises society and also prevents suicides, as queer individuals face more distress than non-queer people due to the present conditions of our society. We are aware that the children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, and we do not want our leaders to be uninformed, biased, homophobic or transphobic.
Teaching children about gender identity and sexualities might become a very sensitive topic for many, but we need to understand that we need not use the word 'sex' in order to explain the meaning of a gay couple or a transgender person. Schools can seek the help of "educated" sex and sexuality educators. By following the UN guidelines, we can also make sure that the teachings are age-appropriate and sex-positive.
It is understood that in a country where even basic knowledge about good and bad touch is not imparted in most schools (which is needed in order to prevent or identify child sexual abuse), spreading awareness on gender and queer identities would take time, but individual schools could always take up the initiative and take small steps towards a progressive nation with equal rights. On a lighter note, if children are aware of gender identities, they would know that wearing nail polish does not necessarily mean you are gender fluid.