New Education Policy: Sexual orientation cannot be a matter of abuse

India (Pahichan) July 8 – As the ministry of human resource development pores over the undisclosed contents of the TSR Subramanian report to draft the New Education Policy (NEP), it would do well to remember one of the constituent principles of the 1986 policy: The creation of an “awareness of inherent equality” and removal of “prejudices and complexes transmitted through the social environment”. When it comes to school students who do not conform to the expectations from their sex (sex stereotypes), these are unfulfilled promises.

For example, boys who sway their hips while walking or girls who “walk like a boy” are bullied, called names “gay”, “faggot”, “chakka”, “Hijra”, “lezbo”, “dyke”, etc., and mentally, physically or sexually abused. Educators usually ignore such incidents or ask students to conform to expectations. Expectations that attach to a particular sex are societal. After all, blue was the colour for young girls and pink for young boys in the early 20th century in America!

The Supreme Court has in one case stated that “section 377 IPC does not criminalize a particular people or identity or orientation” and in another ruled that “[d]iscrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity, therefore, impairs equality before the law and equal protection of law and violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India”, thus placing public bodies (including government schools) under a constitutional mandate to prevent bullying/discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). One verdict has prohibited even a private body from violating the equality clause of the Constitution extending this mandate to private bodies (including private schools).

The UGC Anti-Ragging Regulations (2009), which cover homosexual assault, bind only public and private universities — i.e. after the 12th standard. The Saksham recommendations for gender workshops with an SOGI component also exist at the college level. The CBSE’s new course titled “Human Rights and Gender Studies” (Class 12) may hopefully include a chapter on LGBT studies as its mandate. But no rights-based policy, education programme or anti-bullying regulations govern the school system now.

Themes VI and X of the NEP call for increasing the literacy level of women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and minorities (including those within them who have special needs) whereas Theme V aims to encourage these groups to join the teaching profession. The NEP must understand “minorities” as those groups of students and teachers who have become a minority owing to their treatment in schools and thus address the concerns of queer teachers and students.

“Good ethics and values” — under Theme XII — must teach educators and students that everyone is worthy of respect. Students I interviewed reported depression, anxiety, a fall in grades and educational aspirations, increased thoughts of suicide and a hatred for school when they were bullied. Theme XIII’s call for a “greater focus on child health” must address the mental and physical well-being of students including those who are bullied for being queer or being seen as queer.

The NEP can bring two things: Education programmes and anti-bullying guidelines. The NEP must not fail. Queer students are no less equal.

Surabhi Shukla is assistant professor of law at OP Jindal Global University The views expressed are personal

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