A crucial step towards making government schools in the city more trans-inclusive was taken on Tuesday, with principals of 25 government schools as well as five private schools attending a workshop aimed at sensitising them on transgender rights and the needs and challenges of transgender students.
The workshop was the first phase of a pilot project called ‘Purple Board’, aimed at making education accessible for transgender and gender non-conforming children by addressing transphobia and identifying and eliminating trans-bullying.
The project has been initiated by the NGO Society for People’s Awareness, Care and Empowerment (SPACE), in collaboration with the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education, with support from the Netherlands Embassy.
In a survey conducted last year across 15 private schools, with a total strength of 7,000 students and a sample population of 700, SPACE found that 19% of the sample population identified as gender non-conforming and 30% experienced gender-based bullying.
According to Anjaan Joshi, executive director of SPACE and LGBTQ activist, the exact number of trans-students in schools is difficult to ascertain because of complications with identifying them. To understand how students could become victims of harassment and pressure from their peers, family, and teachers, the workshop broke down the distinction between biological sex and gender, gender identity and sexuality.
Further, the existing judicial framework on transgender rights — laid down by the 2014 NALSA vs Union of India SC judgment, which recognised a person’s right to determine their own gender — was also explained.
Issues faced by trans-students were also raised, such as complications of putting down a gender identity on school enrolment forms, particularly in the case of children whose understanding of gender identity might still be at a formative stage; the right of children to wear uniforms of the gender they identify with; the issues of gender binary-based washrooms; gender segregated games and activities; and hostile parents.
The workshop also saw those who were forced to drop out of school share their experiences. “I wanted to be an engineer, but I wasn’t allowed to study due to the torment I faced from teachers and students,” said a 21-year-old trans woman, who dropped out of a government boys’ school when she was in Class IX.
“I was taunted regularly… in Class VI, I was raped in a washroom by four Class XII boys, after which my teacher scolded me for effeminate behaviour. There were four other trans-students in my school. All of them dropped out soon after this incident; I stuck around, but there was a limit to what I could tolerate,” she added.
A 24-year-old, who was forced to leave by her principal as she was “ruining the school environment”, believes that sensitive teachers hold the key for better lives for trans-students as they can respond to complaints and educate students and parents.
Principals, too, weighed in on these problems, with some suggesting that the need to specify gender in enrolment forms could be done away with. Among the preliminary suggestions fielded by SPACE were creating a unisex washroom in every school and moving away from gendered activities like sewing for girls and sports for boys.
In the second phase of the project, a similar workshop will be held next week for nodal teachers selected from these schools, after which 15-20 workshop sessions will be held with students of classes IX-XII.
“This exercise will continue till the middle of next year, at the end of which we will award certain schools — which introduce unisex washrooms, mixed gender activities and initiate anti trans-bullying policies — the recognition of ‘trans-friendly schools’. The long-term aim is to reach out to all 1,000-plus schools in Delhi and integrate this knowledge into school curriculum,” said Joshi.
Director of Education, DoE, Sanjay Goel, said, “Feedback from principals who attended will be processed in a day or two… we are thinking of incorporating their inputs into the SCERT training provided to all Delhi government heads of schools. There can be one-two sessions on transgender issues as part of that training, in which the heads of schools who attended the workshop can play the role of trainers.”