Due to a lack of a proper comprehensive sexuality education syllabus in educational institutions, young people often face issues relating to gender and sexuality. They also do not know who to turn to and where to access accurate, non-judgmental and safe information on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) from.
There are some concerned activists in India who are making a concerted effort to reduce this gap in knowledge and initiate a conversation so that young people can easily navigate through the complex and often confusing world of gender and sexuality. The Gender Studies Group of Delhi University is one such example. The members of the Group recently launched four FAQ booklets on the topics – The Body, Sexual Minorities, Sexual Harassment as well as Accommodation in and around the University.
The booklets are quite useful resources for young people studying in colleges. According to Aapurv Jain of the Gender Studies Group,
“Through these booklets, we wish to make an attempt to dispel myths, dissolve ignorance and create a culture in which sexual violence and exploitation have zero tolerance and to encourage a healthy culture regarding sexuality”.
The booklet on Hostel Accommodation, for instance, talks about the issue of restrictive rules and regulations for students. Women students can be quite vulnerable in the residential spaces provided or chosen by them -which can range from either a hostel provided from the University or a privately run PG to a privately/collectively rented room(s). The booklets inform and warn students about the possible kinds of harassment and abuse that can happen in the hostels and the other places of shelter. Along with that, they provide information to students about ways to organise collective protests against moral policing, restrictive gender biased rules for students as well as any form of harassment in the hostels.
It is interesting to note that these particular booklets will also be used during the Pinjra Tod campaign, which is an autonomous collective effort to ensure secure, affordable and non gender-discriminatory accommodation for women students across Delhi. According to me, this couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment, considering how the Culture Minister feels that “We can’t follow the West blindly, night outs by girls against Indian culture” . This is a thought that is sadly echoed by many people in educational institutions as well. Which just goes to show that instead of being objective and value neutral, these academic spaces operate on patriarchal terms.
The #pinjratod campaign aims to discuss how these rules are gender biased as they operate for women students only. Also, how this idea of safety is used to control young women’s mobility and sexuality. The diatribe of safety and protection is often used to impose restrictions on women. Apart from this, the Gender Studies group stressed on how moral policing in hostels is gaining momentum and Universities are slowly becoming seats of paternalistic control for students. They also informed the audience that there would be a rally called “Jan Sunwai” and it will be held in Jantar Mantar on 10th October where the students and activists will agitate on campus issues such as the ones that were discussed. And their demands will then be submitted to the DCW.
The other booklets present valuable information to young people about their bodies, gender and sexual identities as well how to tackle sexual harassment. According to Shreya Gupta from the Gender Studies Group,
“Our intention behind these booklets was also to chart the possibility of them becoming a part of the curriculum or be distributed to freshers and others to give them a better orientation about their rights and the general condition in the university, especially regarding the sexual harassment policy.”
After the launch of the booklets during the event, the group organized a small gender and sexuality workshop. The workshop was held by Manak Matiyani, the Executive Director of The YP Foundation and a trainer and facilitator on issues of gender justice and sexuality rights. Manak shared some stories from his college days which threw light on how authorities monitored student’s activities and imposed restrictions on young people’s mobility and sexuality. One of it was in form of a humorous anecdote wherein a college principal saw a couple getting intimate behind a jhadi (garden bush). And the next day, the students realized that all the bushes in the garden had been trimmed off! The students in the audience reacted to this by saying that nowadays they had CCTV cameras in place. Although everyone in the room was laughing at these stories, everyone was acutely aware that the underlying message behind the story is far from funny. It is interesting to note how the method of surveillance might have changed, but the monitoring still goes on in college campuses.
Manak went on to talk about how right now is a good moment for students in DU to reach out and connect with other students all over India to build a youth movement. He mentioned that along with open egalitarian spaces in educational institutions, there was also a dire need for accurate SRHR related information for young people so that they can easily navigate gender and sexuality issues.
After this, Manak facilitated an interactive session on Gender and Sexuality, which was quite interesting! It included a screening of short film from the “Must Bol” campaign which he was a part of. The film showed how society demands strict adherence to hyper masculine aesthetics for men and alternate masculinities are often ridiculed and side-lined. Apart from this, the audience seemed to enjoy the games that followed, wherein they were introduced to the problem with societal stereotypes regarding gender and sexuality. It was heartening to see the young students in the audience were active participants in the discussion. I believe the best part of the session was the fact that complex issues surrounding sexual rights were introduced by Manak in a non jargony and easy to relate manner.
In all, I felt that the event was a huge success! There was enough audience interaction and engagement with the activities during the interactive session as well as interest in the booklets themselves. One great aspect of the FAQ booklets is the fact that the information is presented in a neat and lucid manner. The booklets are also priced at quite nominal prices. As a sexuality educator and gender activist, I hugely recommend them and feel that they are an excellent resource for activists, students and academicians alike.
For more information on the booklets, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org