Explained: Why NCERT is under fire for its gender-inclusive manual

The NCERT recently pulled down from its website a training material for school teachers to make education more inclusive for transgender or gender non-confirming children after facing heavy backlash online and being rapped by the NCPCR for “anomalies” in the document

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The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recently pulled down from its website a training material for school teachers to make education more inclusive for transgender or gender non-confirming children, after facing heavy backlash online and subsequently being rapped by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) for “anomalies” in the document.

 What the manual proposed?

The training material titled ‘Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap’, was recently uploaded by NCERT to create awareness among teachers on dealing with gender non-confirming students while suggesting strategies to make school premises inclusive for them.

The manual proposed creating gender-neutral toilets in schools, gender-neutral uniforms or allowing students to wear clothes they were comfortable in and shun practises that segregate children on the basis of gender. The manual also suggested teachers to talk to students about puberty blockers that don’t allow the body to grow normally by blocking hormones (testosterone and estrogen).

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The document had been drafted over a span of a year after taking inputs from transgender scholars, academics and activists including Bittu Kaveri Rajaraman-Kondaiah, associate professor of Biology and Psychology at Ashoka University; Priya Babu, head of Madurai-based Transgender Resource Centre and Vikamaditya Sahai, associate at Bengaluru-based Centre for Law and Policy Research.

The document introduces teachers to a sea of repertoire including terms like biological sex, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, intersex persons, cisgender, transgender, gender incongruence, gender dysphoria, gender affirmation, gender queer and non-binary among others.

The manual informs how gender binary rules at schools including the mandate of separate uniforms for ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ as well as  gender-specific seating arrangements, toilets, participation in sports or even keeping a certain hairstyle can cause discomfort to gender non-confirming children. It sensitises teachers about strategies to alleviate the fear and discomfort of such children by ensuring gender non-confirming restrooms, changing rooms and hostels among others.

Why the manual was opposed?

The manual received mixed responses after a news website reported about it. While many lauded the NCERT for the gender inclusive initiative, other accused it of peddling “American propaganda” in Indian schools.

Many platforms including right wing news website OpIndia raised objections to the suggestions in the manual. There was also an outrage over the use of the term ‘caste patriarchy’ – mentioned as one of the reasons behind the stigmatisation of transgender individuals – which was seen as an insult to Hinduism by many.

Several comments online were queerphobic and vituperative in nature while others questioned the personal choices and self-expression of team member Vikamaditya Sahai.

 Taking suo motu cognizance of the complaints, NCPCR, in a letter on November 2, sought a response from the NCERT, seeking rectification of “anomalies” in the document within a week.

The NCPCR said the complainant has opposed the proposals mentioned in the manual and urged the NCERT to verify the background of the experts who framed the document.

While the NCPCR hasn’t named the complainant, reports said the complaint is said to have been lodged by Legal Rights Observatory which on its Twitter page has alleged that the manual has been prepared by “intellectually bankrupt leftist elements capable of traumatising students.”

While the document has been removed from public domain, the NCERT is yet to send its answer to the NCPCR.

Reports claim that the NCERT has informed the Ministry of Education that the manual was being vetted while it was inadvertently uploaded on its website.

Academics’ response

L Ramakrishnan, one of the experts who had helped frame the manual recently told the media that the notice reflects the NCPCR’s “misinterpretation” of their recommendations. Ramakrishnan, also the vice president of the NGO Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India has said that he stands by the report.

“The complainants have misinterpreted the proposals. The manual merely stresses the need for gender-responsive infrastructure in schools, something that has been pointed out by the Union government on multiple occasions and in multiple policy documents. Research has shown that a lot of bullying and violence against gender non-confirming children happen in toilets and that is why toilets for gender non-confirming and transgender children may be earmarked and designated ‘gender neutral’ toilets,” Ramakrishna told the media.

Educators who spoke to several media outlets have described how teachers are usually ill-equipped to understand and support transgender, intersex and gender-non-confirming students and how bullying in school by other students often scars these children for life.

 

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