Growing up in any typical Indian school, the notion of gender sensitisation was utterly absent. Our ideas of sex education (and gender sensitisation) were limited to a separated lesson on human reproductive biology for girls and boys, usually during class eighth or ninth. NCERT’s manual “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap” has many ways to change that, making education more inclusive for all gender identities.
What the NCERT Manual gets right
The manual was taken off NCERT’s website after a vicious campaign of hate was directed towards Vikramaditya Sahai, one of its drafters. I have heard Vikramaditya Sahai before; where they have talked about love, about politics of our bodies, about desire, about the normativity of life among a lot of other things that I wish I knew earlier. As a closeted queer person who grew up through India’s education system, Sahai’s words have done so much for me that the system could never do. When a community member also participates in a policy document that will impact the community, there is a vast visible difference toward affirmative changes. For instance, the definitions provided are such that they focus on aiding teachers to make their classrooms a safer space for gender-non conforming and transgender children.
The idea behind the NCERT manual stems from providing an appropriate learning environment to students through sensitizing teachers about gender issues. It recognizes how teachers carry assumptions about gender to their classroom, which can reinforce gender stereotypes and bias. This is also extended to other stakeholders like school administration, curriculum developers, textbook writers, parents and the public.
History of Trans Persons in India
In its discussion of the trans persons in India, the manual looks at their history, Hindu-ised identity and how marginalization happened due to caste patriarchy and British rule. Quality education and employability skills are touted as strategies to reverse the impact of exploitation, followed theorisation that distinguish between gender identity, bodily sex, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Within the definition of sex, the text looks at sex chromosomes and intersex identities, flagging non-consensual intersex surgeries for social or cosmetic reasons as unethical.
Terms like gender, cisgender, transgender, gender incongruence, gender dysphoria, gender affirmation, gender affirmation therapies, gender-affirming hormone therapy, gender-affirming surgery, agender, genderqueer, non-binary, gender fluid, gender non-conformity or variance, and gender norms are also explored sensitively with accepted definitions, something that is rarely present in classrooms. Following up on internationally recognized definitions, the text looks at diverse gender identities (even on the trans spectrum) and various sexual orientations. The discussion on identities also looks at different socio-cultural identities like hijra, kinnar, and jogapa.
While looking at the population of trans persons in India and critiquing the 2011 census for lack of inclusion on non-binary gender identities, the manual highlights the reasons because of which the data regarding the same is lacking while flagging the exclusion of trans-masculine people as a serious concern. Following up on population, the data regarding education and literacy rate among trans persons is crucial, highlighting the need for gender inclusivity in education. Notably, the manual has statements from many trans rights activists highlighting community consultation during the drafting of the text, which has been missing from essential laws like the Trans Act 2019.
The figures also lead to a discussion of vulnerability among trans persons, referring to the lack of support they receive from their biological families and the violence they are met with at times. Their vulnerability presents trans persons as living a ‘socially illegitimate existence’ where they do not have many citizenship rights, including identification documents, followed by a discussion around the lack of enrollment of transgender children within the school system; low appearance rate for exams even though their performance is good.
A crucial part of the text is the inclusion of excerpts from documents like Yogyakarta Principles, NALSA Judgement, National Youth Policy 2014, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, and National Education Policy 2020. Although there are critiques of the same, the discussion delves into details regarding how exclusion and discrimination against trans persons is also a violation of multiple constitutional rights.
Gender Binary and the School System
The section on ‘Issues and Concerns of Gender Nonconforming and Transgender Children in School Education’ discusses gender norms and stereotypes, decoding how their presence in the classroom can impact mental health, education, relationships and the adult life of an individual in the long run. This section also highlights how bifurcation as per gender follows the binary structure, excluding transgender and gender nonconforming children. Here, gender dysphoria is also discussed and marked as not a necessary condition to justify one’s identification of the self as gender nonconforming or transgender.
Through further testimonies from trans persons, the text highlights how schools perpetuate gendered structures through uniforms, seating arrangements in classrooms, assembly lines, shared spaces, sports teams, hairstyle etc. Although this is not discussed within the context of ‘moral policing,’ there is a discussion of the impact of such gendered structures on transgender children. Advocating for freeing children from the binary (calling it an ‘illusion’) brings to notice all the cultural activities students engage in and their gendered nature. This is also extended to the infrastructure where the construction of binary is discussed through single-sex schools, toilets, hostel facilities etc. The notion of gendered spaces is crucial to understand as we grow up in such limiting, segregated spaces.
The report also flags bullying, cybercrimes, and vulnerability to sexual assaults against transgender and gender non-conforming children as serious concerns that can severely impact children’s academic performance and mental health, especially depression and suicidal ideation. The idea of testimonies from transgender and nonconforming children again helps here in understanding the situation better and providing the required mechanisms. Although, more could be provided in terms of structural measures to combat bullying.
Initiatives to mainstream trans persons
The manual looks at initiatives taken by various governments (Tamil Nadu, for instance, for recognizing ‘transgender’ as a category on government document), the corporate sector, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, UNDP, Schools in India like ‘Breaking Barriers’ by Tagore International School in Delhi, and also NCERT’s initiatives. Among the suggestions, there is the creation of trans-friendly school infrastructure, discontinuance of binary practices in classrooms, sensitization of all teaching and non-teaching staff, training of critical educational personnel, curricular reforms, development of exemplar materials, developing guidelines for textbook writers, creating support groups, gender auditing of schools among a host of others.
The idea of an inclusive curriculum emphasizes including transgender concerns within the curriculum, leaving behind the binary examples that we have grown up with. According to the text, “A gender-inclusive curriculum is one in which academic, social, physical and psychological environment takes into account the specific needs of transgender children along with those of girls and boys; and where critical dialogue as a pedagogy assumes significance because it empowers students and teachers to engage on issues that continue to confront us, namely, gender norms, gender identities, deep-rooted societal practices, etc.”. This is marked as a visible curriculum, to be supported by an informal, hidden curriculum.
There are also multiple examples to highlight inclusion through subjects like history, economics, and political science. Subsequently, other methods include highlighting the stereotypical portrayal of trans people in films, emphasis on success stories of trans persons to serve as role models and breaking myths surrounding trans persons. The manual does a tremendous job at highlighting the spirit of gender inclusivity, which is crucial for all children in schools from a psycho-social development perspective. However, the vicious attack on social media against one of its drafters from the trans community only points to the need for such a manual for our education curriculum as the need of the hour.
Featured image source: The Logical Indian