(WB) The Indian government has withdrawn a manual to train and sensitize teachers in schools and colleges on transgender or gender non-conforming students after conservative lawmakers criticized it.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an autonomous organization of the Indian government to assist and advise the central and state governments on policies and programs for qualitative improvement in school education, last month released a training manual for teachers on the inclusion of trans students in school. After it was released, the manual ran into controversy and faced resistance from the right-wing activists. Soon, the NCERT pulled the manual from its website, causing resentment among the trans and Indian LGBT community.
“When the news came out that NCERT is taking this step to make schools a safe place for the LGBTQ community in India, I felt so amazing and proud and was happy,” said Yahnvi Kallani, a 14-year-old student from Agra in Uttar Pradesh.
“It was the day after the news that they took it down because some minister questioned them, and they had to take this whole thing down, which disappointed and annoyed me,” Kallani added.
Back in 2014, Indian Supreme Court recognized trans people as the third gender and said that it is the right of every human being to choose their gender.
Based on the Supreme Court’s judgment, the Indian government passed legislation in 2019, called the Transgender Persons Act. The NCERT acted upon this legislation and decided to formulate an instructing manual titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap,” which was targeted to educate and sensitize teachers and students about different genders.
The manual highlights strategies to make schools sensitive and inclusive towards trans and gender non-conforming students. It also includes the provision for gender-neutral bathrooms and uniforms, and sensitizing of non-teaching staff of schools was also included in it. The manual advocated discontinuing the practice of segregation of students into various school activities based on gender. The manual included inviting trans people to speak on the school campus.
Soon after the release of the manual, Vinay Joshi, an RSS member (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, right-wing Hindu nationalist group), filed a complaint against the NCERT to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
Joshi claimed that the manual is a “criminal conspiracy to traumatize students in the name of gender sensitization” and the NCPCR should take appropriate action against those who are responsible for it. The NCERT took down the manual from its website without any delay.
“The manual wasn’t for children, but teachers,” said Dr. L. Ramakrishnan, a public health professional and vice president of SAATHII.
Ramakrishnan was one of the members who contributed to creating the manual for the NCERT.
“We do not know if the manual is completely scraped or it will come out with some revisions,” added Ramakrishnan.
After multiple requests for comment to the director of the NCERT, Dr. Sridhar Srivastava, he remained silent. It must be noted that after the complaint was filed to the NCERT on the manual issue, two NCERT employees who were also involved in designing the manual were transferred to other departments.
“We are not happy about this, and we are still introspecting various ways in which we can still make it work,” said Mr. Rishu, a representative of Harmless Hugs, a platform that provides a safe space for the LGBT community in India.
School students from across the country gave their reactions to the Washington Blade.
Priya Verma, 16, from New Delhi, the Indian capital, said that she is not happy with the NCERT’s decision.
“It is an important issue, people and classmates should know about this,” said Verma, a 10th-grade student.
“When NCERT came up with this manual, many of the transgender students had hoped for a change. Pulling out the manual shows the selfishness of the organization,” she added.
Yahnvi Kallani, a 14-year-old student from Agra, said when she read the manual, she was happy that the school would have a gender-neutral uniform. But since the manual is gone, she feels uncomfortable as she identifies herself as non-binary.
Muskan Vishwakarma, a freshman from the Gujarat state expressed her disappointment with the NCERT’s decision.
She said people in India lack awareness about the trans community. Vishwakarma said people think it’s a sickness while it is not. To fix this problem, she said the government has to educate people, and it can happen through the schools.
Since the NCERT has pulled out the manual, she said the problem will remain untouched.
“Whatever happened, it was not up to good,” said Vishwakarma. “In classrooms, kids do not understand these things, and they end up bullying kids who look different or act differently from them.”
Recently, 43 LGBTQ groups from different institutes in India and 700 people from across the country have signed a letter to the NCERT and demanded to bring back the manual on the NCERT’s website as soon as possible. The letter has also been addressed to the chair, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Child Development for necessary retrospection and actions, and the National Council for Transgender Persons (NCTP).
While many showed disappointment, some also expressed their hope with the NCERT.
Manvendra Singh Gohil, an Indian prince who is the first openly gay prince in the world, spoke with the Blade about the issue.
“NCERT’s manual might be pulled out, but I am sure in days to come, it will be considered, and inclusion will be there,” said Gohil.
“We need to educate the political parties and the leaders, we also need to sensitize the parties no matter left or right,” he further added.
Mumbai-based Tinesh Chopad, an advocacy manager at the Humsafar Trust, said the NCERT is a larger body, and it has a much larger reach in the country, if the manual can be retained again, it would be a good step.
“Most of the trans individuals face stigma and bullying at the school level as well,” said Chopad. “It was one step toward avoiding the bullying and discrimination trans folks face daily.”