Gender and sexuality education in schools and colleges in Bengal
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Earlier this month, Kolkata witnessed a shameful event of human rights violations where 12 girls of Kamala Girls’ School were reportedly forced by the school principal to admit in a written ‘confession letter’ that they were ‘indulging in lesbianism’. This was followed by angry parents barging into the headmistress’ office, accusing her of fabricating the entire incident. The principal defended herself saying she was only acting on the basis of complaints received from other students, and that the 12 girls had ‘confessed’ on their own volition.
Instead of dispassionately investigating the matter, the West Bengal Education Minister, Partha Chatterjee, remarked that he won’t ‘allow lesbianism’ in schools, that if it was personal matter, it should be kept ‘outside school’, and that lesbianism was against the ‘ethos of Bengal’. Though he asked for an inquiry the next day to find out why the school acted the way it did, the whole situation raises a number of alarming questions.
* Is being lesbian or homosexuality something to be looked down upon or ‘curbed’ by educational institutions and the State?
* What about the rights of the children to understand themselves better?
* Schools are not the appropriate place for sexual activities, but bodily and mental changes, sexual curiosity and explorations are part and parcel of adolescence. Should these be stigmatized and penalized? Shouldn’t there be a frank discussion with children on it with suggestions on well being, consent and safety?
* What is the mindset of the administration in schools and colleges when it comes to sexual and mental health of the students?
The entire incident is a reflection of desensitized societal institutions and administrations when civil society organizations in Kolkata and Bengal have been scrupulously working to spread awareness on gender, sex and sexuality and make it part of free expression and exercise of basic human rights through a range of activities like interactive workshops, sensitization sessions, online and traditional media interaction and rainbow pride marches.
What can help? We recommend that the government, civil society, educational institutions, parents/guardians and the media should work together to:
~ Ensure that the principal of the Kamala Girls’ School makes amends to her regressive actions and the students impacted in the current incident receive support to overcome any emotional trauma they may have undergone
~ Revisit the issue of introducing age-specific gender and sexuality education in schools and colleges, an initiative that has been stalled under the pretext that it will corrupt young minds. We cannot overlook the fact that the alternatives through which young people are likely to get information on matters sexual - peers, internet and other dubious material - can be incomplete, inaccurate and even dangerous.
~ Undertake a massive drive to sensitize the heads, faculty and administrative staff in schools and colleges as well as parents/families of students on gender, sex, sexuality and mental health.
We urge the Education Minister, Partha Chatterjee, to take the lead in this matter of human rights, something that befits the ethos of Bengal, and sets an example for the rest of India to follow!
Join hands in designing a better and healthier future for our young people. Please sign this petition.
Photograph courtesy: Thoughtshop Foundation, Kolkata
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