NEW DELHI, India — The Indian government has withdrawn a manual to train and sensitize school and college teachers on transgender or gender-nonconforming students after conservative lawmakers criticized it.
the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an Indian government self-governing organization tasked with assisting and advising central and state governments on policies and programs for quality improvement in school education, last month released a training manual for teachers on the inclusion of trans students in school. After its publication, the manual sparked controversy and encountered resistance from right-wing activists. Soon, the NCERT removed the manual from its website, causing resentment among the trans and Indian LGBTQ community.
“When the news came out that NCERT was taking this step to make schools a safe place for the LGBTQ community in India, I felt so amazing and proud and I 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 a minister questioned them, and they had to take it all down, which disappointed and annoyed me,” Kallani added.
In 2014, India’s Supreme Court recognized trans people as third sex and declared that every human being has the right to choose their sex.
Based on the Supreme Court judgment, the Indian government passed a law in 2019, called the Transgender Persons Act. NCERT acted on this legislation and decided to formulate an instruction manual titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”, which aimed to educate and sensitize teachers and students on different genres.
The manual highlights strategies for making schools sensitive and inclusive of trans and gender non-conforming students. It also includes the provision of gender-neutral toilets and uniforms, and sensitization of non-teaching school staff has also been included. The manual advocated ending the practice of segregating students in various school activities based on gender. The manual planned to invite trans people to speak on the school campus.
Shortly after the publication of the manual, Vinay Joshi, a member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist group), filed a complaint against NCERT with the National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (NCPCR ).
Joshi claimed that the manual is a “criminal plot to traumatize students in the name of gender awareness” and that the NCPCR should take appropriate action against those responsible. NCERT removed the manual from its website immediately.
“The manual was not intended for children, but for teachers,” said Dr. L. Ramakrishnan, public health professional and vice-president of SAATHII.
Ramakrishnan was one of the members who contributed to the creation of the NCERT manual.
“We don’t know if the manual is completely scratched or if it will come out with some revisions,” Ramakrishnan added.
After multiple requests for comment from NCERT Director Dr. Sridhar Srivastava, he remained silent. It should be noted that after the complaint was lodged with NCERT on the issue of the manual, two NCERT employees who also participated in the design of the manual were transferred to other departments.
“We are not happy with this, and we are still introspecting various ways to make it work,” said Mr. Rishu, a representative of Harmless hugs, a platform that provides a safe space for the LGBTQ community in India.
School children across the country gave their reactions to the Washington Blade.
Priya Verma, 16, from India’s capital New Delhi, said she was unhappy with NCERT’s decision.
“It’s an important issue, people and classmates should know about it,” said Verma, a 10th grader.
“When NCERT released this manual, many transgender students had hoped for a change. To release the manual shows the selfishness of the organization,” she added.
Yahnvi Kallani, a 14-year-old student from Agra, said reading the textbook she was happy the school had a gender-neutral uniform. But since the manual disappeared, she feels uneasy because she identifies as non-binary.
Muskan Vishwakarma, a freshman from Gujarat State, expressed her disappointment with the NCERT decision.
She said people in India lack awareness of the trans community. Vishwakarma said people think it is a disease when it is not. To solve this problem, she said the government must educate people and this can be done through schools.
Since NCERT released the manual, she said the issue would remain untouched.
“Whatever happened was not good,” Vishwakarma said. “In classrooms, kids don’t understand these things and end up bullying kids who look different or act different from them.”
Recently, 43 LGBTQ groups from different institutes in India and 700 people from all over the country signed a letter to NCERT and demanded to bring the manual back to the NCERT website as soon as possible. The letter was also addressed to the Chairman, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Child Development for looking back and taking action, and the National Council of Transgender People (NCTP).
While many showed disappointment, some also expressed hope with NCERT.
Manvendra Singh Gohil, an Indian prince who is the world’s first openly gay prince, spoke with the Blade about the issue.
“The NCERT handbook might be taken down, but I’m sure in the days to come it will be considered and the inclusion will be there,” Gohil said.
“We need to educate political parties and leaders, we also need to educate parties, whether left or right,” he added.
Mumbai-based Tinesh Chopad, Advocacy Officer at the Humsafar trust, said that NCERT is a bigger body and has a much bigger reach in the country, if the manual can be kept again, that would be a good step.
“Most trans people also face stigma and bullying at the school level,” Chopad said. “It was a step to avoid the bullying and discrimination that trans people face on a daily basis.”
Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance journalist who has covered different stories including the 2020 US election and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency and enjoys helping people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and reachable at [email protected].