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Kerala: Balussery school adopts gender-neutral uniforms, Muslim groups protest

🔴 Announcing the implementation of the gender-neutral uniform, Higher Education Minister Prof R Bindu said the new uniform would boost the confidence of students, irrespective of their gender.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: December 18, 2021 9:37:06 am
200 girls and 60 boys of Class 11 at the GHSS, Balussery slipped into blue pants and striped white shirts. (Photo: Twitter/@VSivankuttyCPIM)

If they wear shirts and trousers at home, why not at school? Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Balussery, Kozhikode, realised it had no answer to this question. So on Wednesday, the 200 girl students in its Class 11 got what they wanted — a “gender neutral” uniform, the same purple trousers and striped white-and-blue shirt as the 60 boys in their class.

The school in Balussery – which incidentally is girls’ only till Class 10 — became the first government higher secondary school in Kerala to introduce the same uniform for its students, across genders. Even as various Muslim organisations held a march to the school in protest over this on Wednesday, many more girls in Class 11 walked in in shirt and trousers, including Muslim students such as Fathima Alfiya, Thursday.

She was “elated”, Fathima said. “We should move with the trend. Outside school, I wear dresses, trousers, purdah, as the occasion demands. Why oppose trousers and shirt in school?”

She added Muslim parents have no objections. “More Muslim girls wear shirt-trousers than from other communities. Even my friends in other schools are thrilled at the new uniform in our school,” she said, adding that she wasn’t bothered about the protest, as it was natural for people to oppose anything “unusual”.

Classmate Shivananda U R said they felt less “self-conscious” in the new uniform. “We feel more freedom. It is easier for commuting (many students cycle to school),” Shivananda said, adding that earlier they wore a salwar suit, with an “overcoat” (a sleeveless jacket) over it. The change in uniform comes 17 years after boys were first allowed in the school, in Class 11.

Principal R Indu said it was the girls who are now in Class 12 who first demanded that they be allowed to wear the same uniform as the boys last year. “They said they wear shirt and trousers usually, then why not at school. This was discussed at the PTA (Parent Teacher Association meeting), and the opinion was in favour of the girl students. Only one or two parents objected. But even their girl children are coming in shirt and trousers,” Indu said.

She said the idea was to give the girls the freedom they demanded from a dress code that they felt was uncomfortable. “We want to give them the freedom. They are also free to wear full-sleeve shirts if they want, and an overcoat. Muslim students are free to wear a head scarf.” The protesters who came on Wednesday, she pointed out, were “not parents”. “Nobody has submitted a written complaint objecting to the uniform.”

Jabir Neroth, a member of the state committee of the Sunni Students Federation, said they did not agree with the logic of the school.  “Biologically, men and women are different… Besides, behind the same uniform for girls and boys is an agenda to secretly introduce liberal ideology. If women want to progress in society, is it mandatory that they wear the same clothes as men? It amounts to denial of diversity and is undemocratic. A liberal approach has been foisted upon the girls,” said Neroth.

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