With the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2018, it was taken for granted that India’s largely anti-LGBT climate would gradually change itself. Although the country has taken baby steps towards progress, social institutions here are yet to enforce inclusive protocols that embrace diversity. Schools are one of the principal institutions in any society, and with good reason. For one, schools help transfer culture to and through younger generations. Besides, they help establish social codes and define ‘normative’ behavior for children.
In a landmark move in the history of Indian education, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) introduced a teacher’s training manual for the inclusion of transgender and non-binary students in schools. However, the act inspired a heavy furor and was pulled down within four days of its upload.
The Roadmap and the Manual
The NCERT manual comes seven years after the landmark NALSA versus Union of India judgment, which extended all constitutional rights to Indian citizens who self-identified as transgender. The act also provides reservations for transgender persons in the educational and corporate sectors.
Since then, there have been efforts on the part of NCERT to introduce gender-sensitive manuals. The Facilitator Guide for School Health Programme (2019), for example, suggested familiarizing young children with the idea of gender and sexual multiplicity.
Thus far, the now revoked manual remains NCERT’s most comprehensive move towards gender sensitization. Titled ‘Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”, the 100-page manual sought to establish basic guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and non-binary students in schools.
The revoked manual examined caste-based patriarchy and prevalent homophobia as the main hindrance to transgender children in the educational sector. It noted how, although school enrollment rates among gender non-conforming children are abysmally low, the grades achieved by this minority are considerably high, thus indicating that the low enrollment was not due to a lack of interest or intelligence.
An article written by Overview elucidates how the manual sought to sensitize not only teachers but also “members of school administration, curriculum developers, textbook writers, parents and the public at large.” It proceeds to enumerate problems that non-conforming children might face in school, such as gendered washrooms and uniforms, bullying, abuse, lack of support, and so on.
It also discussed how the language of textbooks could be altered to make them more inclusive. For example, sections in Biology or Chemistry could include a portion on hormonal therapy.
The Storm after the Calm
Firstpost released a comprehensive article on the manual and its inclusion upon its publication on 1st November. A post shared on Twitter promoting the said article invited much uproar, mostly from right-wing activists who took the manual for an attack on Hinduism.
On November 2nd, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a notice to NCERT based on a complaint filed against the manual. The complaint, made public by OpIndia on their blog, claims the manual to be a “criminal conspiracy” against the wellbeing of children. The complainant insists that the manual would expose children to environments that would clash against their home environment, thus inflicting considerable “childhood trauma.”
Ripples within the Department
The reaction eventually gave rise to ripples within the Gender Studies department under NCERT. Although there has been no explicit confirmation of whether one led to the next, the connection seems obvious to the detached spectator of events.
Professor Mona Yadav, who was heading the team that drafted the manual, has now been transferred to the Department of Education of Groups with Special Needs. Professor Poonam Agarwal, the former Head of the Department, has been similarly removed to the Central Institute of Educational Technology. A third member of the team, Professor Milind Anand, has been denied his tenure as the next department head, a position that has now been granted to a lesser qualified faculty member.
NCERT is yet to release an official position on the manual’s withdrawal. However, queer activists and parents of queer children from across the world have risen in protest against the step back.
One such parent, Nilakshi Roy, has started a petition on change.org to retain the manual. Addressed directly to Dr. Sridhar Srivastava, the director of NCERT, Roy’s petition strongly claims on behalf of the transgender teacher’s manual, claiming that “if the children and schoolteachers continue to NOT see these people for who they are, or to allow disrespect, support bullying, lack of privacy, all because they are ALL EQUALLY MISINFORMED.”
The petition, which has an upper cap of 15,000 signatures, has now garnered over 11,000 likes.