This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Amrit Mahapatra. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

We Need To See Indian Classrooms For What They Are: Casteist And Gendered

More from Amrit Mahapatra

After the National Education Policy was cleared by the Union Cabinet, there started debates and deliberations over the institution of education, its shortcomings and ways to improve on them. While a lot of formally holistic proposals of the NEP seemed promising, an informed narrative on the conditions inside the classroom was missing. After all, no amount of legislation can make up for the lived experience of the classroom and its betterment, unless it is actively altered by the stakeholders.

To understand why the classroom is so important, it is imperative to know the tasks performed inside a classroom.

Apart from the formal teaching that is imparted, students are socialized informally in a number of ways in a classroom, so much so that classroom and peer groups are considered one of the strongest agents of socialization.

It is not only the textbook lessons that make a headway in the evolving mind of a school-goer but also the informal anecdotes that a teacher shares, the stories and activities a group of friend indulges in, almost on a daily basis. As a result, the general culture in a classroom largely influences the values of the students to a significant extent.

Some of the prevalent norms in a classroom are not only borderline discriminatory but also sexist in their implementation as well. For example, in most schools except for some private, progressive schools, there are rules against the seating of boys and girls together after a certain age. It is considered to be distracting and against the becoming of a “good student”.

The lack of sex education becomes increasingly apparent in some other practices as well. Girls, while on periods, have to steal glances from teachers and fellow students to go to washrooms. Hushed voices, discussing various theories about the same stigmatize further, a biological phenomenon. Teachers add to this by shushing the students instead of sensitizing them about sexual wellness and health. Girls are unfortunately on the receiving end of such practices where they are made to feel sorry, albeit subconsciously, for their identity. This is not the only sexist practice in place, though.

Girls are unfortunately on the receiving end of such practices where they are made to feel sorry, albeit subconsciously, for their identity. Representational image.

Schools police the length of skirts, with some even going to the length of drawing up a parallel between the dress of a girl and her character. Such abominable yet largely prevalent practices lead to the breeding of a culture where toxicity thrives.

Classrooms are generally seen as non-living halls where the interaction of teachers and students take place, on formal subjects prescribed under the syllabus. However, they are much more than that. Classrooms are the living embodiment of the institution of education. It is an ecosystem where pupils do not only interact under the watchful eye of a supervisor but also among themselves and exchange values, leading to informal socialization.

When this ecosystem is not nurtured, suppressed and made to conform to the “moral” right, it leads to voices of inquisition and curiosity being driven underground. Take, for example, the case of teenage relationships in the Indian context. Relationships are looked at, as a source of distraction and something that foments trouble leading to the erosion of honour. They are not viewed as natural longings and needs of an adolescent human being.

In such a case, talking about relationships becomes a taboo and this too is gendered. Rumours about boys having a romantic relationship is seen as distracting at worst, and a marker of masculinity, at best. On the other hand, in the case of girls, the rumours tend to them being viewed as “characterless” in the least, and straight-up abused and humiliated publicly by authorities, in the worst.

Throw into this mix, an uninformed yet passionate barrage against reservation and other subconscious casteist practices and the plight of a young girl from a marginalized caste or community is up for all to see. A narrative that reservation leads to meritocracy being trampled upon is bred and distributed through the grapevine, with no arguments or facts to back up the case.

Nothing could be further from the truth as this narrative does not take into account the centuries-long socio-economic oppression. Reservation is intended for the representation of such communities but the sense of entitlement with which these “anti-reservation” activists are indoctrinated with prevents them from seeing it.

Facing a multi-front battle, fighting both sexism and casteism, girls from marginalized castes and communities have it incredibly more difficult to wade their way through a classroom. Since much of this remains subconscious, only coming to the fore in sporadic incidents of violence such as the death by suicide of Payal Tadvi or Rohith Vemula.

It is imperative that classrooms are seen for what they are – an ecosystem of socialization that needs to be nurtured and made aware of the nuances of caste and gender so that a more inclusive space is built and celebrated.

You must be to comment.

More from Amrit Mahapatra

Similar Posts

By Sujeet Kumar

By Saras Jaiswal

By Uttam Singh

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below