Earlier this month, the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) was forced to take down its teacher training manual titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”, published by its department of gender studies.
The manual aims to educate and sensitise teachers and school administrations towards the LGBTQIA+ community, by teaching them about diverse gender and sexual identities.
It highlights practices and strategies to make school an inclusive space for transgender and gender non-conforming children.
These strategies include the provision of gender-neutral toilets and uniforms, sensitisation of non-teaching staff, discontinuing practices that segregate children into various activities based on their gender, inviting members of transgender community to speak on campus, among others.
However, the manual faced backlash from right-wing Hindutva groups, which argued that it would end up promoting a western outlook on gender and sexuality. They opined that it is against the traditional family values of Indian society.
Former RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) pracharak (preacher), Vinay Joshi, from Maharashtra, filed a case with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) stating that:
“The manual is a criminal conspiracy to… psychologically traumatise school children under the guise of gender sensitisation.”
Taking cognisance of the matter, the NCPCR issued a letter to the NCERT, asking it to rectify anomalies in the manual. NCPCR chairperson, Priyank Kanoongo, said in the letter to the NCERT that:
“The text of the manual suggests gender-neutral infrastructure for children, that does not commensurate with their gender realities and basic needs. Also, the idea of creating and removing binaries shall deny them equal rights of children of diverse biological needs. Second, this approach will expose children to unnecessary psychological trauma due to contradictory environments at home and in school.”
The NCERT also transferred two faculty members who authored the teacher training manual.
In an another incident, the NCPCR sought an explanation from the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) and the UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) over the planned screening of short films based on queer relationships in several schools in West Bengal.
The eight short films with queer themes, were made by young filmmakers and shortlisted for Prayasam’s “Bad and Beautiful World Film Festival”.
Had it gotten adopted, the NCERT manual would have proved to be a turning point in the history of school education, as it would not only create safer spaces for LGBTQIA+ students, but also encourage them to question rigid gender norms and stereotypes.
Schools, being one of the primary agents of gender socialisation, reflects, reinforce, and enact gender roles in society. It is in school that many of children’s worldviews are formed, or challenged.
Thus, changing the way in which schools see gender, is important for challenging larger, gendered relations in society.
The attitude of the NCPCR goes against the spirt of the progressive NALSA judgement (2014), the more regressive Trans Act (2019), and the “Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India” judgment (2018)—all of which required the government to sensitise the society about the LGBTQIA+ community.
The action of the NCPCR not only harms queer students by claiming that their identities are not worthy, or significant enough, to be a part of educational discourses, but also denies the agency of all students, who need to be aware of concerns around gender and sexuality in today’s times.
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Both these incidents reflect an ongoing attempt by Hindutva groups to stifle all progressive movements in the cradle stage. Using traditional family values, which are highly patriarchal and discriminatory in nature, these groups are promoting hate towards the LGBTQIA+ community.
These attempts deem LGBTQIA+ people as second class citizens, who are welcome only if they don’t question the hegemonic structures of our society. They can live as long as they keep quiet about their “way of living”.