Salem Suicide Pact: How our campuses are failing to protect LGBTQ students 

The two girls apparently had an 'inappropriate relationship' which the teachers were unhappy about and suggested that the parents send them to counselling
Are calls for help in our campuses going unheard?
Are calls for help in our campuses going unheard?

Two Class Eight students from Salem jumped of a five-storey building in a suicide bid, one of them died. The other is battling for her life. This is yet another suicide pact with yet another tragic cause. Reports suggest that the two girls shared an 'intimate relationship' that the teachers thought was 'inappropriate'. They even asked the parents to seek counselling for the students. 

Now we don't know if the parents sought counselling and if they did we don't know what sort of counselling they got, we don't even know what type of counselling the teachers might have suggested. We will never know if the two girls did really have an intimate relationship or were just distraught over the very suspicion. What we do know is that our campuses continue to fail to provide counselling and support to students who might not identify with a certain gender identity.

A few months ago, EdexLive covered several LGBTQ groups on campuses, something we can't even imagine for schools. But the college students have their own issues and many work in secret as well. But schools need support groups, now more than ever. 

Group gusto: A snapshot of IIT Bombay's Saathi, an LGBTQ resource group

For any child, the adolescent phase is difficult and for those belonging to LGBTQ, it can be a really trying time, even the most prominent institutes in the country don't have access to support groups.

It is because of this hostility, that student- support LGBTQ groups continue to either function secretly or are asked to remain "uncontroversial" by the college administrations. Despite reaching a stage where LGBTQ rights are spoken about and discussed, activists say that no such support groups in educational institutions have any backing from the administration.

Administration support for LGBTQ groups is a far-flung dream

"I've been working for almost 15 years and I've taught in colleges across the country and while I have tried to set up a group in every institution I have taught it, I can say for sure that no university has been supported by its administration. Members of the faculty might extend their support but it'll never come from the management," said Ashley Tellis, who was allegedly fired from his teaching position at St Josephs College in Bangalore for his sexuality.

Centre forward: Ashley Tellis is a professor and gay rights activist

Groups run independently by students

None of these LGBTQ clubs in colleges is officially registered with the administration, so these groups are run independently by the students. One of the oldest campus clubs in the country is IIT Bombay's Saathi which was set up by the students seven years ago. But the university has been organising events and has a vibrant crowd as its members too, but they face no issues from the administration? " In the beginning, of course, things weren't easy but over time, we've been allowed to host events on campus. Our present dean is particularly helpful, so we've had no issues as such with the management but we're still not an official university group but we're in the process of trying to make it one," said a student from the institute who wished to remain anonymous.

IIM- Kozhikode could have first registered club

Perhaps the only institute that sees some hope in terms of an official registration is the LGBTQ club that has been set up in IIM-Kozhikode. Himanshu Singh, an alum from the institute set up the club with some of his peers. "The group got a lot of support from both students and faculty, we had Shashi Tharoor also come for the inauguration. We've already applied for registration and the process is midway, we're hoping and most likely will get the approval soon," said Singh.

We're official?: Shashi Tharoor had come for the inauguration of the LGBTQ club in IIM-Kozhikode, set up by Himanshu Singh (in the picture)  

Always asked to stay non-controversial

Even if these groups do take place in the open, the students are always given "advice" as to how to go about their meetings. One of the groups set up Ashley Tellis was in TATA institute of Social Sciences- The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (TISS- BALM) and the students hold discussions on various subjects including sexuality and feminism but many of these sessions are held off campus, especially if it is to do with LGBTQ. A student who did not want to be named said that sometimes the sessions were held at her house to avoid any trouble," There was no open discrimination but subtlety they'd make their point and we were asked not to do anything "controversial". So we held these sessions secretly," she explained.

Asked to change name from LGBTQ to gender studies group

Students also say that in many instances when they seek permission to hold meetings and discussions on LGBTQ issues, they are told my the management to change the event name to 'gender equality studies'. "We wanted to have a queer studies group and requested the English department to give us a classroom but they told us that they would give us a classroom if we changed the name to gender studies instead, to which we refused. So as a sign of protest we held the session on the college lawn," said Dhruv Tejaswi, who is a former Delhi University LAW student and is presently studying in SOAS in the UK.  

Staunch supporter: Dhruv Tejaswi is also part of independent queer students and youth collective, Queer Campus 

Queer support groups on social media

Tejaswi is also a part of the "Queer Campus" group, an independent queer students and youth collective that provides a safe and comfortable space for people to meet and discuss any gender and sexuality issues as well as social issues. The group is Delhi based and those students who don't have support groups on campus can always find help through this platform. But besides this, Tejaswi said that Queer Campus has also successfully brought about change in certain campus issues as well, "Last year, we reviewed the sexual harassment clause in DU which stated that only women can be victims but we brought about a reform and ensured that not just women but transgenders and others who have different gender identities are also included," he said.

Situation for LGBTQ community not getting any better

Tejawvi agrees that there are only a handful of safe spaces for the LGBTQ community and things don't seem to be changing either, "What happened in RAMJAS college is so disappointing, it wasn't just about Umer Kahlid. In fact, they removed him from the speakers' list but the protestors still didn't want the session to take place because it involved talks on subjects like desire and a list of transgenders was also asked to be speakers for the occasion, but they (protestors, ABVP) don't want that discussion to take place," he explained. He also added that things did seem to get better after the 2009 Delhi High Court's decision but things are back to square one, now.

Proud people: A glimpse from the recent Chennai LGBT pride parade. (Photo: Ashwin Prasath)

Rural educational institutions provide zero for their LGBTQ students

The law student also pointed out that while we should be worried about the lack of spaces in our colleges, the greater worry is the complete non-existence of such spaces in the rural schools and colleges. "In rural institutions, girls and boys are not even allowed to sit together, they are punished for even engaging in conversation, so where does the question even arise about whether or not they have the opportunity to discuss sexual orientation," he added.

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