New Delhi: When Anjan Joshi decided to switch his focus from private to government schools with the aim of spreading awareness about transgender rights, he was certain his efforts would be met with deeply conservative and rigid mindsets.
Little did he know that, less than a year later, he would be awarding 26 Delhi government schools for being transgender-inclusive.
“We were overwhelmed and surprised by how forthcoming the heads of government schools were to the idea of us holding transgender-sensitisation workships,” said Joshi, the co-founder of Society for People’s Awareness, Care and Empowerment (SPACE), a Delhi-based NGO.
‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term for people with various sexual identities, including those who don’t identify with the gender they are born with, are born with the physical characteristics of both sexes, or are “gender queer”, not identifying with either of the two genders
In October last year, the NGO initiated ‘Project Purple Board’, aimed at increasing transgender inclusivity in schools. This was in collaboration with the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education, and supported by the Netherlands Embassy.
Last Thursday, SPACE awarded certificates to 28 schools, including 26 government institutes, for championing the cause of transgender inclusivity.
This was the culmination of a series of workshops conducted by SPACE over a period of five months in schools located in Rohini and Shahdara, among other Delhi areas — starting with an exclusive session with the principal of the school, followed by one with the teachers and, finally, an intimate conversation with high-school students.
Gender-neutral washrooms and anti-trans bullying policies
Government Girls’ Senior Secondary school (GGSSS) in New Seelampur, one of the schools identified as transgender-inclusive, now has a gender-neutral washroom on the premises.
Among other initiatives, it has incorporated transgender-specific provisions in their anti-bullying policy, as have most of the 27 other schools awarded the certificate.
Santosh Gupta, who recently retired as the principal of the school, told ThePrint that the workshops helped students get rid of the fears and biases they may have had against transgenders.
“Students are inherently curious about these subjects,” she added, “They see transgenders around them and may have even reacted by being scared of them in the past.”
“The workshop really helped open the eyes of teachers as well as the students. I really hope such workshops are taken to all government schools in Delhi.”
Government schools much more progressive than private schools
In 2016 and 2017, Joshi said, SPACE had held workshops in private schools, but they weren’t nearly as progressive as the NGO had expected them to be.
“We approached 45 private schools, but only 15 allowed us to hold workshops. The rest had all sorts of excuses,” he added.
The response in government schools was the complete opposite, he said.
“Some of the principals were 60+ years old, and they acknowledged that they had never paid enough heed to the subject,” Joshi added.
What really struck him was not only the students’ curiosity, but also their honesty. In every school, there were at least one or two students who confided in them about their own struggles with gender identity, he said.
“Students used a question box we placed for anonymous queries to ask us a variety of questions on topics ranging from menstruation to masturbation, to what reproductive organs transgenders have,” he added.
In some schools, the NGO also came across students who were made a laughing stock for their gender fluidity. “But, thankfully, by the end of the session, many students would even have tears in their eyes when they realised their mistake of bullying other students,” Joshi said.
This report has been updated to correct a typo