Published: 22nd March 2018
Do schools need to change their approach to homosexuality?
The school in West Bengal, which asked ten "lesbian" students to tender a written confession accepting their sexuality brings to the fore the divide between understanding and ignorance to the LGBTQ
Every time I hear someone making ignorant comments about the supposed 'evils' of homosexuality, I think about the true evil of the high suicide rates among gay and lesbian teens. - Susan Estrich (b1952), American author and Feminist Activist.
Finding out real or imaginary dangerous persons for civilised society, dubbing them and hunting them to death or suicide has been a repeated scenario in history. A brief historical sweep on the subject is in order.
According to Wikipedia, witch-hunt is a search for people labelled "witches" or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic or mass hysteria. From 1450 to 1750, it is estimated 200,000 or more "witches" were tortured, burnt or hanged in the Western world. Witch-hunting and killing are not unknown in India and periodic headlines on the subject surface in the media, especially of instances in central and eastern India. In recent centuries witch-hunting has taken different avatars, like racial hunting and killing of Jews under Hitler and for different reasons in Communist Russia and China. Even America was not free of it where “Communists” were hunted under what came to be known as McCarthyism. Currently we in India have another type of witch-hunt – lesbianism in schools. But, first the facts as reported in the media.
According to a Delhi-datelined report, while parents and activists have been criticising a Kolkata school (about which later) for forcing students to “confess” in writing that they are lesbians, West Bengal’s education minister, Partha Chatterjee, has said that homosexuality will not be tolerated in schools as it is against Bengali culture. “In the past, we had never received reports of such incidents in the state’s educational institutions. If such an incident (lesbianism) had indeed happened, it would be against the ethos of our state.” “If the school found that there has been indecent behaviour on the part of certain students, the school authorities are within their rights to take appropriate action”. Under no circumstances “lesbianism can be inculcated” in schools, the education minister added
According to reports earlier in the second week of March 2018, authorities at a Girls’ School in Kolkata tried to get ten students to sign written “confessions” saying that they are lesbians. According to the school, this was done to bring students on “the right course”. The parents, however, who got into a heated argument with the headmistress on the issue and said that the school was trying to arm-twist their children. The students were apparently singled out on the basis of complaints from their peers. “We called those students and they admitted it. Considering the sensitive nature of the issue, I asked them to admit it in writing. I have got written admissions from all ten students,” headmistress Sikha Sarkar said.
Several LGBTQIA+ and child rights activists have said that the way the school dealt with the situation was wrong. “What happened with those girls is abhorrent. Not only were they singled out on the basis of a few complaints, which could very well have been pranks, I don’t understand what purpose did the whole exercise serve? Are students in co-ed schools asked to write a confession about their heterosexuality when they are seen spending time together?” Malobika, co-founder of the Kolkata-based NGO Sappho for Equality – The Activist Forum for Lesbian, Bisexual Woman and Transman Rights said.
(John B Monterio is a lecturer who drifted into writing and Journalism. He has authored three books and is the founder of the Bondel Laughter Club in Mangalore)