In October, National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) came out with a teacher-training manual titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmaps.”

The manual came after NCERT took cognizance of the landmark 2014 Nalsa judgment which for the first time recognized “third gender /transgender person” and extended fundamental rights to transgender people.

Why a gender-sensitive teacher training manual?

The primary intention of this training manual is to educate teachers on the issues of transgender students, help them overcome their biases, and create an inclusive atmosphere in classrooms for transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) students.

Society for Peoples’ Awareness, Care and Empowerment (SPACE) survey of 2017 reveals that over 30% of trans students faced gender-based bullying, 39% reported name-calling and verbal abuse and 24% faced physical violence.

Vaivab Das, a researcher in Gender Studies, IIT Delhi said that the manual was a positive step towards a more empathetic and inclusive education system. 

Calling the manual a charter of awareness that ensures learning doesn’t become a choice between one’s bodily integrity and one’s aspirations, Das raised his concern, “What is the point of freedom and agency if it is exercised in an informational void?” while speaking to the Leaflet news website.

Divya, a core member of Jamia Queer Collective (JQC) and clinical Psychology student, observed that the NCERT manual would’ve helped teachers grow psychologically.

“It was an opportunity for teachers to create a small crack in the shell and slowly start questioning to break out of the cocoon they have formed,” Divya elaborated.

The manual provides ample resources for them to empirically think and implement reforms that are outside the binaries.

The manual explains relevant concepts, terminologies such as biological sex, gender identity, gender dysphoria, intersex persons, transfeminine, transmasculine, etc. have been elaborated upon for precise learning.

Cover page of the now-deleted NCERT Training Manual.

What is the manual and who all worked behind it?

The document elaborates on the plethora of issues faced by gender non-conforming and transgender students ranging from identity crisis, sexual harassment, binary institutions such as uniforms, toilets, seating arrangements in class, etc.

The document provides strategies such as building gender-responsive infrastructures, to abolish binary exercises within the classroom such as separate benches for “girls” and “boys” to counter aggressions against GNC and transgender students. It also stipulates necessary steps by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, UNDP, and NCERT itself to bring in systemic changes.

Apart from the NALSA judgment, the manual also cites excerpts of some important documents such as the National Education Policy(NEP) 2020, National Youth Program 2014, Transgender Persons (Protection) Act, 2019 to name a few.

The document enlists the success stories of Dr. Aqsa Shaikh, Dr. Manobi Bandhopadhyay, Vihaan Peethambar, and Grace Banu. The manual ends with bursting few myths about transgender persons such as “there is no biological basis for transgender identities,” “Transgender is a homogenous category,” and “being transgender is not an illness/ a mental disorder.”

The manual was put together by several faculties of Gender Studies of NCERT like former Hod of the department,  Prof. Poonam Agrawal, and the current Hod, Mona Yadav. Other advisors included L. Ramakrishnan, Vice-President of Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII); Priya Babu, Managing Trustee at Transgender Resource Centre, Madurai; Prof. Bittu Rajaraman-Kondaiah, Ashoka University; Vikramaditya Sahai, Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR) among others.

However, the manual was withdrawn from teacher training after right-wing opposition.

‘Indoctrinating young minds with western concept,’ right-wing opposes manual

Several Hindutva activists and supporters on social media had started to oppose the NCERT manual saying that it is a way to indoctrinate the minds of young people with Western concepts.

Based on a complaint filed by former RSS Pracharak Vinay Joshi, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a notice to NCERT.

As per the letter made public by Hindutva website OpIndia, the main points of the complaints are: 1)The text of the manual suggests gender-neutral infrastructure for children that does not commensurate with their gender realities and basic needs. Also, the idea of creating and removing binaries shall deny them equal rights of children of diverse biological needs. 2)Secondly, this approach will expose children to unnecessary psychological trauma due to contradictory environments at home and in school. 3) It is also highlighted in the manual (Chapter 3) that teachers are suggested to discuss with students about puberty blockers and its availability for adolescents. 4) Further the background and qualifications of the drafting committee was not verified.

Indrajeet Ghorpade, who runs an online LGBTQ community called ‘Yes, We Exist’ says: “The way our society is set up today is still very patriarchal, it is very gender binary in nature. This is why people in power enjoy the current structure of society.  And they don’t want any changes that threaten their own position of power.”

“By starting to educate people at a very young age in schools about transgenders, and encouraging to create an inclusive atmosphere by demolishing binary structures, chances are that these students will grow up to be people with more progressive values and do away with patriarchy gradually,” he adds.

Ghorpade goes on to criticize the Union’s decision to award Padma Shri to a transgender artist, Manjamma Jogathi saying that “it was just for optics” and calls out the lack of action on the part of the government to implement tangible inclusion, citing the BJP’s opposition to same-sex marriage at Delhi Hight Court. The National Council for Transgender Persons hasn’t raised the NCERT issue.

Maktoob has reached out to the National Council for Transgender Persons for a comment but we haven’t received any statement from the Council till the time of writing this report.

Aftermath the deletion of the manual

The deletion of the manual sparked an outcry from various LGBTQ organizations, private individuals, and experts. An open letter endorsed by more than 40 LGBTQIA+ groups including those of several IITs and signed by 730 individuals have been sent to NCERT, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, and Minister of Women and Child Development.

However, none of the ministries or councils have responded to this document.

Ghorpade, one of the signatories says, “This open letter is a way to encourage the NCERT to bring back the manual as it would help schools become safer for transgender students. Also, it is a way to tell NCERT to not succumb to these regressive and ill-informed groups.”

The letter rightfully calls out the lack of empathy and hypocrisy of NCPCR chairperson, Priyank Kanoogo’s lack of empathy as the NCPCR went on to overlook a wide range of evidence and scholarship to term inclusive suggestions entailed in the manual as “anomalies.”

Moreover, the NCPCR  has labeled the manual as a conspiracy/agenda of the “woke” to traumatise school children, while completely ignoring the existence, experience, and rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students in India.

Condemning the comment “psychological trauma” made by NCPCR, Divya adds, “The defense mechanism of Projection is being used here. The chairperson himself is not comfortable with this change. Thus, the stress they’re experiencing is being projected on the very phraseology of this notice.” They go on to add, “I think children are likely to get more traumatised if they open any prime time news, rather than a teaching manual.”

The letter further points out how NCPCR has failed to follow recommendations of the “Expert Committee on issues related to transgender persons” undertaken by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2013 which stated, “stigmatization of gender-nonconforming and transgender children and youth is amplified in the educational system, which mirrors the rest of society in reinforcing strictly binary and patriarchal gender norms.”

Citing constitutional safeguards that tenders to transgender persons wellbeing under Article 14 (post-NALSA judgment, 2014) and Article 15 (affirmative actions for the advancement of socially and economically backward classes of citizens), the letter demanded the reinstating of the manual and a public apology by the NCPCR chairman for undertaking a transphobic plan of action.

If NCERT had not succumbed to right-wing threats, the manual could’ve contributed to making one’s school life richer and jovial. As it emphasized the range of traumas students face in school due to experiences related to identity.

Home and the world

Divya emphasized gender sensitization at home, saying, “Gender sensitization needs to happen at a young age before the child forms a strong opinion. A child develops gender identity from the age of five or six due to heavy societal conditioning and they keep on following it.”

Moreover, individuality and childhood remain constrained because general activities such as a sport or a shade of color, or a choice of the outfit are held prisoner within gender binaries.

Ghorpade expressed that he hoped that after the Nalsa Judgement and the decriminalization of 377, the creation of inclusive spaces would speed up. “Progressive change has a very real and tangible impact on people’s lives. The longer teachers are kept in the dark about the needs of trans and gender no conforming students, the longer schools are going to be unsafe spaces for such students. The Government, civil society, mainstream media needs to step up, use their influence to support these progressive changes.”