The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) took down a publication titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap” from its website last week.
The training material was aimed at sensitising teachers on gender diversity with concepts such as gender incongruence and gender dysphoria. It also elaborated on terms used by people to identify themselves — gender fluid, agender, transfeminine, transmasculine and cisgender.
The manual suggested the creation of gender-neutral toilets in schools, the introduction of gender-neutral uniforms and mixed rows of students without the demarcation of “boys and girls.”
However, several conservative users on social media tore into the report and accused the NCERT of playing at being “woke” and trying to comply with “western norms”.
Typical example of Indians chasing compliance with western norms, sign of inferiority complex. https://t.co/jItRm8g1Wl
— Rajiv Malhotra (@RajivMessage) November 1, 2021
Soon after, the NCERT was rapped by India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which forced it to withdraw the manual.
The NCPCR, in a letter to the council on 2 November, said it had received complaints against the contents of the teaching manual and had taken suo motu cognisance in the matter of violation of child rights. The rights’ committee asked NCERT to “take appropriate action to rectify the anomalies in the document”.
A top NCERT official claimed that the department of gender studies uploaded the manual without final approval, according to TheIndian Express. However, another source said the manual was uploaded only after due process.
As a result of the outrage, the NCERT has also transferred two of the three senior faculty members who helped develop the manual. Mona Yadav, who was heading the department, has been transferred to the department of education of groups with special needs, while Poonam Agrawal has been moved to the Central Institute of Educational Technology.
The council’s move is being seen as an evident step back for the LGBT community’s struggle for better rights in India.
In 2014, the first gender audit of NCERT showed that textbooks portrayed men and women in a gender normative way. While women were stereotyped as primary caregivers and homemakers, men were shown in a variety of professions such as pilots, artists, astronauts and magicians.
The same year, India’s Supreme Court declared self-determined gender identity as a fundamental right, while recognising the third gender. In 2018, the court decriminalised homosexuality, but same-sex marriages are still prohibited in India.
Meanwhile, a professor and the parent of a queer child has started an online petition urging NCERT to reinstate the teaching manual.
“The NCERT manual is excellent and holistic for teachers who don’t know how to approach this subject. It is written in a simple manner with loads of examples. I have faith in the judiciary and the council. I have a lot of hope on the petition and everyone who has signed it has done so with the same belief,” Nilakshi Roy told The Independent.
She sent the petition to the joint director of the council, Sridhar Srivastava, and other officials on Friday. The petition has received more than 10,000 signatures so far.
Congratulating the council on adding a “detailed chapter on gender,” Dr Roy said in her petition that “sensitising NCERT teachers to the fact that some children could be non-binary only suggests love and compassion for children who seem or are different in some respects”.
Reacting to the backlash by conservatives on social media, she said that “apart from using words such as woke and American narrative”, the critics had nothing concrete to say.
She said: “There are no hardcore objections. If you look at the objections, they don’t hold water. The National Education Policy has made funds available for gender inclusions so why should the objections matter?”
“I don't know where this is stemming from, I would say this is a colonial hangover,” Dr Roy added. “Our Hindu society is very inclusive and we can accommodate everyone. Our youngsters are way more inclusive and our laws have changed over the years, so I am sure this will have some impact.”