Arvey Mittal, a sixteen-year-old student of class 10 of Delhi Public school, Faridabad jumped off the top floor of the building where he lived with his mother on 24th February 2022. Arvey left a note for his mother in which he wrote,” this school has killed me, especially higher authorities….”.Arvey was a bright young boy full of dreams for a bright future he was an artist, singer and an aspiring designer. Arvey lost his dreams and his life owing to the isolation, bullying and assault at school owing to his sexuality.
Priti, a transgender girl from Jamshedpur, being brought up like a girl at home faced similar trauma in school. Initially it was name calling, bullying, taunts and verbal abuse by students and even teachers, especially the male teachers. As she grew up and started growing her hair and nails and began asserting her feminity in her mannerisms, she was assaulted physically by the boys in her class and senior classes.
“I was scared to go to school and especially to the toilet. I had been accosted several times on the playground, in the corridors and especially in the toilet. I was beaten up and even spit upon. I could not even complain to my teachers for they had never supported me in the past. I was left with no choice.”
Priti dropped out of school in class 10 and her abandoned her dreams of completing an MBA and working in a multinational. An uncertain future stares her in the face and she is thinking of joining the Hijra community.
Anjali Siroya, advocacy officer in The Humsafar Trust shares her story of torment and abuse in school - “I would sit in agony with my full bladder pressing on my abdomen, my bladder would be on the verge of blasting but I would not use the toilet in school. I lived in constant in fear of being caught by boys of my class or senior classes alone in the toilet. I could not use the female toilet for fear of ridicule and could not use the male toilet for fear of abuse. I had been sexually assaulted and abused by some senior boys in the toilet of my school.”
Arvey, Priti and Anjali are not alone. Across the country ,students are bullied because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In a study conducted by UNESCO with over 450 youth in Tamil Nadu almost 53% skipped classes due to bullying and over a third of the students dropped out of school altogether. Almost 84% admitted being bullied in schools, mostly by students but one fifth admitted to being bullied by male teachers. Most teachers are not trained or empowered to respond to anti-LGBT bullying, so in many cases they don’t. In some cases, they even participate in the bulling and abuse.
Abuse includes threats of rape, groping, bullying, name calling, use of vulgar language, abusing family members, hitting and kicking, being locked in a room, stealing their belongings and having nasty rumors spread about them.
Bullying of sexual/gender-minority youth occurred in a variety of settings such as classroom, school toilets, school terrace and school playground. More than two-third (67%) of gender non-confirming youth are bullied in classroom, three-fifths (60%) are bullied in school toilets and one-third in school terrace (35%) or school playground (32%).
The stories are many and varied, as are the geographies. But the common thread binding them together is the deep prejudice and discriminatory attitudes that continue to prevail in these institutions.
A survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission in 2016 revealed that 92% of transgender individuals in India face discrimination, abuse, and harassment. Similarly, a study by the LGBT Foundation found that 59% of LGBTQ individuals in India reported being bullied in school.
Renowned LGBT activist Harish Iyer states that schools are representative of society at large who are governed by the understanding of gender and sexuality in age old binaries which is considered normal, and their lack of understanding and awareness leads to such homophobic behavior.
A young person's cognitive, emotional, and identity development all peak throughout adolescence. According to research, a young person's school experiences can have a significant impact on their academic and social-emotional development, physical health, and mental well being. In order to give kids a high-quality education, schools must promote a supportive environment and put in place social and emotional supports that encourage favorable developmental outcomes. These supports may be especially crucial for LGBTQ youth in order to ensure that they reach their full potential. Their drive to study may suffer, and a lack of such support may result in depression, a sense of alienation, and even suicidal thoughts. The inequalities in outcomes are lessened when LGBTQ students felt safe in their schools like other cis gender students, though marginally.
According to a number of studies, an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum fosters a supportive learning environment and student wellbeing. For instance, California children who were taught about LGBTQ issues at school reported seeing fewer LGBTQ students being teased and bullied.
In 2015, an NGO Pravritti and the University of Hyderabad collaborated on study to investigate the effects of gender and sexuality education on Indian schoolchildren. According to the study, students who had received gender and sexuality education were more likely to report having developed their empathy, tolerance, and acceptance of other people's differences, especially those relating to gender and sexual orientation.
Students reported that they were less likely to engage in bullying behavior or use derogatory language after receiving gender and sexuality education, which helped to lessen stigma and prejudice towards transgender and LGBTQ people.
“I personally feel that many school teachers may not be aware of LGBTQ and transgenders. Their understanding is limited to their exposure of the transgenders they see begging in the street and trains, and hence their reactions are based on their limited understanding. We need to include a section about transgender in B.Ed. syllabus and also train teachers on gender and sexuality in schools so that they can be sensitive in handling such children” said Mrs. Ashu Tiwary, Principal of Motilal Nehru Public School in Jamshedpur when asked about the bullying of LGBTQ students in schools and measures to make schools safe for LGBTQ students.
The Adolescence Education Programme (AEP) was set to begin in all secondary and higher secondary schools in 2007, according to an announcement made by the central government in collaboration with NACO, NCERT, and UN organizations. A Teachers' Workbook, Reference Material, Facilitators' Handbook, and a Flip Chart were among the AEP's materials.
13 Indian states, however, demanded an immediate prohibition because they believed the explicit material intended to deliver thorough sexuality education under the AEP violated Indian culture and morals. The results of the aforementioned study are hardly shocking or unexpected in a world where homosexuality is considered an illness and talking about sexuality is a crime.
Following several shocking incidents of child sexual abuse in schools, many have developed programs to teach kids how to protect themselves and call the authorities. However, the majority of these courses or programs have only explored the concepts of good touch and bad touch and other commonly accepted binaries, rarely attempting to impart a thorough understanding of gender and sexuality-related issues.
LGBTQ activist Harish Iyer independently talks of the same. Speaking of schools in particular, he recommends making it a mandatory inclusion in every teacher training program, for any level. He adds that it is important to include programs on sexuality and gender at every level and make it a part of continuing education for everyone, to ensure that there is repeated hammering of issues and realities across years of study.
As part of a qualitative research conducted by Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, Gender and sexuality education is a logical venue to help all youth learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, and to encourage acceptance for LGBTQ people and families.
Overall, a gender and sexuality education intervention in schools in India can play a vital role in empowering students to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors towards their own identities and is an important aspect of comprehensive sex education that should be taught in schools to help students understand and navigate the complex issues related to their own identities, relationships, and sexual health and be more accepting of other sexual preferences and gender identities.
Here are some possible elements of a gender and sexuality education intervention in schools in India to address this issue:
1. Curriculum development: Creating a thorough and age-appropriate gender and sexuality education curriculum that includes an understanding diverse identity, role models and experiences and takes into account the social and cultural norms of the community.
2. Teacher training: Instruction on how to teach gender and sexuality education effectively, including how to provide a secure and inclusive learning environment for all students irrespective of their gender expression and identity.
3. Organizing awareness and capacity building workshops on gender and sexuality for school authorities, students and parents which will help them to understand gender diversity and clarify myths about sexuality and gender diversity.
4. Establishing punitive measures against bullying in schools.
5. Parental involvement: Encouraging parents and guardians to get involved in the educational process by giving them resources and information on gender and sexuality education and giving them spaces and opportunities to talk to their children about gender and sexuality.
6. Student involvement: Creating safe, non-judgmental spaces in schools to engage students in interactive and participatory activities that promote students to freely discuss issues around gender and sexuality through role-playing exercises, dialogues, discussions with their peers and encourage them to question myths and stereotypes.
7.Community partnerships: Build partnerships with local organizations and community leaders to provide additional resources and support for gender and sexuality education, as well as to address the larger social and cultural issues that may impact students’ understanding and attitudes towards these topics.
Gender and sexuality education in India might meet with severe opposition from different stakeholders because it sets to correct historic inequalities and challenges heteronormative structures. It is therefore critical to build culturally sensitive communication with all stakeholders to build trust and understanding on the urgent need for such education in schools in India.
Overall, gender and sexuality education intervention in schools in India can play a vital role in empowering LGBTQ students to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors towards their own identities and relationships, and create a safe and inclusive environment in schools that nurtures them and helps them realize their full potential.
As Mrs. Swarna Mishra (Principal, Dayanand Public School, Jamshedpur) says “I know that it will take time to change attitudes of parents and teachers towards LGBTQ students, but we have to begin now. As teachers and as a school we must ensure everything such that not a single child feels left discriminated and victimized owing to their gender”.