Behind The Facade Of Co-Education In India

Posted by Ramadevi Mahadevan in Education, Sexism And Patriarchy
February 22, 2018

Last week, I had been to an institution where I saw this sign near the staircase. I was equally humoured and appalled.

It just hit me that gender is instilled in everyone’s mind right from their student life. Then, how do we expect equality among people when gender is the first identity-marker of a person?

A friend of mine who studied in a co-ed school recounted that they had separate classrooms for boys and girls in separate sections of the building. And of course, they had separate staircases. To me, it is very evident that the students of the so-called ‘co-ed schools’ are often more aware of their gender than those in gender-specific schools.

It is sickening to think that such a demarcation is planted in young minds – and that they often totally shape the social lives of these people. It is no surprise that boys and girls as young as fist graders are often made to sit in different columns in the same classroom. Because this is the norm and no question should be asked. And there still exist colleges where students are fined when they are caught talking with the opposite sex.

In many cases, if you interact with the opposite gender (even if it is just out of curiosity), you are ridiculed. In a discussion during an India Today Conclave, the well-known RJ and actor, RJ Balaji, mentioned  that he was shamed by his school teacher for going to the theatre to watch “Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai”. Wonder why? Well, he was the only boy among nine girls. Such incidents, in my opinion, will definitely make people conscious of their sex and they are likely to view the opposite sex with more scrutiny as a result.

Unfortunately, such divided upbringings often make these people socially awkward. Many of my male classmates have admitted that they feel intimidated while talking to a girl from their class. But they feel more comfortable when they hide behind the virtual world of social media. They can chat up to hours on Facebook with a girl, but find it difficult to say one coherent sentence when meeting her face-to-face.

This awkwardness is, in my cases, even more evident in workplaces. My friend had recently joined a multinational IT firm. She recounted that the HR professional mused how the men and women sat apart on the first day of training. Only after the HR person continuously pursued the issue for three days could they sit together.

Not every girl and boy who talk are going to be involved in a romantic or sexual relationship with each other. We need to give space for meaningful friendships to bloom between men and women. At the very least, we should not corrupt the minds of young students – making them see others as only ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ and not as classmates with whom they may want to play and share stuff with.

India is culturally progressive, but that accounts only for a small section. Many more awareness initiatives need to be undertaken to remove this gender discrimination from schools and colleges so that the children can grow up to be responsible citizens of the future who can successfully co-exist.

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