As homophobia and homophobic bullying continue to be a major issue that the transgender community faces in India, 27 Delhi schools were recently certified “trans-friendly”. The move earned plaudits from experts and representatives of the trans community who termed it to be a big step towards gender-inclusive education.
A survey of almost 400 LGBT+ youth in Tamil Nadu by the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO and NGO Sahodaran, found that more than half of the students skipped classes to avoid bullying, while a third dropped out of school altogether.
Recently, 19-year-old Avinshu Patel of Chennai committed suicide after he was bullied for being effeminate and his sexuality. Just before ending his life, he put up social media posts about being harassed — one in Hindi and another in English.
“Next borne. ……….I’m training to #perfectboy or #perfectgirl and good thinking also….new generation child…………” he wrote at the end of his long Facebook post.
Despite a landmark 2018 court ruling that decriminalised gay sex, India’s LGBT+ community is often rejected by their families, denied jobs and driven into begging or sex work.
“Perhaps, that is why transgender inclusiveness matters,” said Anjan Joshi, co-founder of Society for People’s Awareness, Care and Empowerment (SPACE), a Delhi-based NGO, that recently declared 25 government schools and two private schools in Delhi as trans-inclusive.
What does trans-inclusive actually mean? “For us, it means basic needs being provided, like a gender-neutral washroom and anti-trans bullying committee in schools,” he added.
In October 2018, the NGO initiated ‘Project Purple Board’ that aimed at such inclusivity in schools in collaboration with the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education, and supported by the Netherlands Embassy. “This was the culmination of a series of workshops conducted by SPACE over a period of five months in schools located in Delhi suburbs like Shahdara, comprising sessions with principals of the schools and teachers. It was followed by open-house sessions with high school students,” describes Joshi.
Pointing out that government schools were more forthcoming than private schools to talk about trans issues, Joshi said that it is necessary to start with schools, as the foundation years can actually contribute to more awareness and acceptability.
Consider these figures: According to Census 2011, there are around 4.9 lakh transgenders in the country. Census data also reveals low literacy levels in the community with just 46 per cent transgenders literate, compared to 74 per cent literacy in the general population.
“While we say education is a basic right of every child, it should be education that is inclusive and doesn’t only include people with disabilities but also those who identify with a different gender or sexual identity. They shouldn’t be bullied for who they are; and for that to happen, infrastructure and environment in schools make all the difference,” Joshi told indianexpress.com.
Transgender activist and model Rudrani Chettri concurred that change can’t happen unless it starts in the initial schooling years. “It is amazing that schools, especially government schools, are making an effort to become trans-inclusive — something I have been trying to push for years. The higher education curriculum and environment can’t be revamped unless the higher and primary levels in schools are made to understand who transgenders are, and the fact that it is not something to be ashamed of,” Chettri told indianexpress.com.
She stressed on the importance of sending home the message that trans children exist, from a gatekeeper to the librarian of a school. “We have not talked about trans children at all. Education for all has to also include awareness among parents, teaching staff, support staff and everyone in public life, so that when these children grow up, they do not feel discriminated against in jobs, education, their rights and their everyday lives,” Chhetri added.
She also questioned why biology textbooks still have gender binary chapters when talking about reproduction in classes ninth and tenth, without a word on transgenders. “It is time we talk about that as well,” she said.
Back in 2014, former Lieutanant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung announced that transgender children could take admission in schools across Delhi NCR and pursue their studies free of cost alongside other students, under Right to Education (RTE). Under the economically weaker section (EWS) category, they were eligible for 25 per cent reservation for admission.
Recently, the Delhi Government’s State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT) announced an elementary level education curriculum to make teachers sensitive to transgenders and the issues they face.
Under the curriculum, the teachers get to meet members of the transgender community in areas like Burari and Turkman Gate in North Delhi, which has a sizeable trans population, to understand the barriers between their access to education and healthcare services. The District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) centres organise monthly workshops and lectures by experts from different universities and NGOs in which people from the community come and speak about their experiences. In fact, SCERT’s short-term courses for transpersons who couldn’t complete their basic education is also in the pipeline.
Transgender activist and popular TV show host Rose Venkatesan, who faced severe harassment during her teenage years, shares that inclusiveness can only be a reality when “no one experiences fear and feels the need to remain closeted”.
“I remember how I was harassed in school and college; for a long time, I feared being found out. I internalised the fear from the looks I got and and all the bullying. I was hiding my femininity which was painful and crushed my confidence,” Venkatesan told indianexpress.com.
Identifying as a transwoman, Venkatesan hailed the initiatives being taken and emphasised that unless society, including school teachers, especially male teachers, and parents as well as the management of schools, talk about such things openly, change will be a far cry.
“Name-calling and verbal harassment don’t end,” said Venkatesan, who is also part of NGO Sahodaran, affirming the NGO’s Tamil Nadu survey that pointed out bullying and harassment are pervasive and commonplace.
What more does she hope for? “If what the Kejriwal government is doing in Delhi can have a ripple effect across the country, even in smaller cities and towns, we can truly hope for trans-inclusivity,” she said.
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