NCERT and its Gender Inclusive Training Manual

On September 6, 2021, three years after the landmark Supreme Court verdict that decriminalised homosexuality, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on its website published a manual titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”. This manual is a teacher’ training manual on the integration of transgender or gender-non-conforming students in schools.

The manual is aimed at training educators to help them understand and protect transgender and non-binary children from bullying by their peers, while also enabling them to instil sensitivity in other students. A lot of transgender and non-binary children face bullying and harassment while at school, and as a result, many run away from their natal homes due to the violence they face at school and in their natal homes. It was welcomed by people of the LGBTQI+ community and was put together by experts in the gender studies department, along with many lived experiences. Developed by the Department of Gender Studies at NCERT, along with inputs from several external experts, the manual elaborates on various means to make school education transgender-inclusive; these include both educational and infrastructural interventions.

The manual also contains a section called “Success Stories of Transgender Persons to Serve as Role Models” featuring various transgender individuals in India and their success stories. Dr. Mona Yadav and Mily Roy Anand, along with Astha Priyadarshini, at the NCERT Department of Gender Studies, were instrumental in putting the manual together. A lot of Priyadarshini’s inputs were based on her master’s dissertation, in which she interviewed 18 transgender individuals to understand how transgender people are impacted by their transgender identity.

A couple of months later, a media publishing house did an article about the manual. This report threw good light on the manual, but there was a social media backlash, and later a complaint was filed with the “National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).” This complaint resulted in Dr. Mona Yadav and Professor Poonam Agrawal being abruptly transferred, and the training manual being taken down from the website. NCPCR instructed the NCERT to “take appropriate action in rectifying the anomalies present in the document.” Priyank Kanoongo, NCPCR chairperson, said in his letter to NCERT that “this approach will expose children to unnecessary psychological trauma due to contradictory environments at home and in school.”

In support of reinstating the manual, the Association for Transgender Health in India (ATHI) issued a statement re-establishing the scientific validity of the training manual and highlighting the need and importance of sensitisation of teachers. Sensitisation would help prevent unnecessary psychological trauma that trans kids are currently facing (and have been for ages now) in schools because of bullying and harassment. There was also an online petition by a parent of a queer child requesting NCERT to retain the manual.

The Madras high court has also criticised this removal of the training manual, to which NCERT responded by saying it was being taken out as it was “yet to be reviewed and finalised” and that it was a draft. The Deputy Secretary of NCERT reported to the court that the training manual will have to go through a three-stage review before it is finalized. They denied taking it down under pressure and said it was removed as it was a “draft,” but there was no explanation why it was taken down after almost two months and there was no information why there was an abrupt transfer of the two senior members of the Gender Studies department.

Moreover, NCPCR’s response to the whole issue just shows how they have no qualms overlooking the trauma so many gender-nonconforming children face every day of their lives while at home or school. Unchecked, this harassment can progress to sexual abuse. It is absolutely horrifying how blatantly departments that are supposed to “protect” only care to protect cis kids. The issue has gained some traction with the intervention of the court. The Madras high court has directed the NCERT to “finalize the training module and positively implement it during the next academic session.”