Monday, March 10, 2014

Making education sexy

Vartanama, Mar '14
By Pawan Dhall

In this season of much heartburn around Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, it is refreshing to come across new and even not-so-new ideas around gender and sexuality discussed and debated in seminars and meetings. If nothing else, then these occasions generate a faint hope that the world can yet be changed!

One such occasion was the screening of a film titled Bioscope: Non-Binary Conversations on Gender and Education produced by Delhi-based gender and sexuality focussed NGO Nirantar. The film portrayed the experience of both male-to-female and female-to-male transgender people in the Indian education system. Screened on February 28, 2014 at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, it was followed by a panel discussion on the same topic. The event was a joint effort of Kolkata-based NGO Swayam, which tackles violence against women, and the School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University.

The film and the panel discussion both brought home the point that the Indian education system was a major site of violence against anyone who did not conform to the so called norms around gender and sexuality – be it in the context of personal appearance or even participation in sports. Among those worst affected were transgender students, an unknown number of whom dropped out of school or college because of the extremely discriminatory environment. The violence could be in the form of bullying by other students or in the transphobic manner in which teachers behaved with transgender students.

Panel discussion on the experience of transgender people in the Indian
education system. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

In terms of strategies to deal with the situation, it was not a surprise that the topic of sex education came up in the discussion. But interestingly the panellists recommended a ‘broader gender and sexuality education framework’ rather than ‘sex education as just another subject to be studied by rote in the curriculum’. Such a framework would help infuse gender and sexuality equity in the syllabi of all subjects and encourage a deeper appreciation of the issues involved.

Of course, the infusion of gender and sexuality education would have to be age-specific, but the earlier it started the better it would be, as socialization of children around gender and sexuality began at a much earlier age than admitted to by both parents and teachers. This would not be the only challenge. Talking about gender fluidity beyond the binary of male-female or man-woman to include the transgender, and then even beyond transgender issues would be equally difficult. Yet, it was welcome that the discussion around these complex issues took place.

Equally welcome was an initiative undertaken by IDIA or Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access through Education, an agency with a rather unique mission of facilitating access to legal education for youth from marginalized and underprivileged sections of society. Started from the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS) in Kolkata in 2010 and later registered as a charitable trust in Bangalore, IDIA operates through 17 chapters across India.

On March 6 and 7, 2014, IDIA organized the Kolkata leg of its 'IDIA Film Festival at National Law Schools' at the WBNUJS auditorium. On the first day, the film festival, which focused on human rights issues, included a panel discussion on how films can serve as an instrument of social empowerment. I got the opportunity to speak in the discussion on behalf of Varta, and highlighted the role played by films and film festivals in the Indian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (queer) movement through the years since the early 1990s. Not just films from the West, but also Indian films in various languages, including Bollywood films and films made by queer activists, have played a significant role in awareness generation and advocacy on queer concerns around health and development.

The audience at the IDIA film festival was small, but the panel discussion and interface with the audience was lively and not without possibilities. The mix of legal education, films and social change made for an interesting discussion on what works and what doesn’t in terms of films: Do they only reflect social change or also bring about social change? Do films inspire lawyers and judges to change the way they function? What role can films play in outreach among the masses for spreading information and generating debate and dialogue?

Varta looks forward to further interaction with IDIA representatives and scholars as well as other students of law on various aspects of social lawyering in relation to gender, sexuality and associated issues of public health. For however progressive (or regressive) the law of the land may be, the sensitivity of legal service providers is what matters the most to a person seeking legal advice or redress. Especially if the person battles innumerable social barriers and mental dilemmas to reach them in the first place!

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

No comments:

Post a Comment