By Shambhavi Saxena:
In another instance that shows exactly why schools and colleges need better support systems for LGBTQ people,
The survey was published in “Insight”, the campus magazine, and revealed several conflicting viewpoints held by the 9,000-strong student population. 79% of IIT-B students said that they were not opposed to an “open LGBTQ culture.” In fact, IIT Bombay is perhaps one of the only handful of colleges that actually has a campus queer collective, Saathi. In fact, there are queer collectives in IIT Roorkee, Kharagpur, Gandhinagar and Delhi.
The survey also showed that a sizeable number of students even said queer people had a right to their privacy, and would even make good parents. But due to what is obviously a massive knowledge gap, many also tended to pathologise queerness, or delegitimise it using religious beliefs.
It is precisely this lack of understanding about various LGBTQ identities and experiences that is a cause for concern, as all damaging stereotypes stem from it. These stereotypes are essentially fears and misconceptions that, when unchallenged, lead to everything from systemic discrimination (denying a person housing, work or even civil rights) to out and out physical violence.
One would assume that the school (or university) space – literally the locus of learning – would take on the responsibility of addressing such a knowledge gap. However, academic curricula almost everywhere, are yet to put such a system in place. Perhaps only Telangana can boast of such an effort, with a Gender Education course that was proposed way back in January 2016. But classroom discussions on homosexuality (let alone the entire gender and sexuality spectrum) have been few and far between.
Given all of this, being confronted by a figure of 38% is not particularly surprising. Even though this is one of India’s premier engineering and research institutes, the usual ‘liberal arts’ perspectives on social justice may not be as strongly emphasized here as in say, JNU or Jadavpur University, or even TISS. One might find such misconceptions antithetical to the relentless pursuit of truth and knowledge that one assumes the sciences have undertaken, but this view simply discounts the various and layered social factors that have allowed the myth of ‘homosexuality as disease’ to persist. Even our medical sciences have excluded LGBTQ experiences and issues.
That nearly two in every five IIT Bombay students view homosexuality with a such a condescending, and ill-informed attitude is a problem. There’s no two ways about it. But the question before us now is what we, as student peers, faculty, administration, and universities in general, can do about this problem.
It is hoped that the findings of the survey prompt IIT Bombay to do better by LGBTQ Indians, and, if resources permit, perhaps even lead the way for other campuses across the country.
Obviously, everything is not gloom and doom in this campus. In an editorial note, “Insight” has even taken the pains to highlight what can be considered positive changes in attitudes about queerness. Butit is hoped that the findings of the survey prompt IIT Bombay to do better by LGBTQ students.