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Lack of sensitivity, and an unspoken yet strongly implemented taboo on access to information play a large part in the all pervasive queer phobia in Indian schools and colleges.
Trigger Warning: This deals with queerphobia, depression, and suicide, and may be triggering for survivors.
“This school has killed me. Specially higher authorities.,. tell ninna and bade papa about my sexuality and whatever happened with me. And please try to handle them… You are wonderful, strong, beautiful and amazing” excerpt from the suicide note written to his mother by a 16-year-old student, Arvey Malhotra, of a school in Faridabad.
These last words by the late Arvey Malhotra leave one feeling numb, angry, and heartbroken. Along with being a student at the school where his mother Aarti was also the Art teacher, Arvey was an artist, writer, poet, singer; he had a unique dressing sense and wanted to become a fashion designer. But his dreams were not meant to be, for he decided to end his life after suffering homophobic bullying for years, since the sixth grade.
Instead of celebrating his uniqueness, his classmates mocked him for his gifts as being too effeminate, for “real boys play football” and don’t dabble in art or wear jewellery.
According to Aarti, who spoke to LGBT icon Ankita Mehra on an Instagram Live, bullies called Arvey names like “chakka”, and “you’re a girl”, sending Arvey into a spiral of depression after enduring years of bullying. Despite multiple official complaints by Arvey and her, no action was taken by school authorities.
Arvey also had a learning disability; he was dyslexic and found no support in the school system or from his teachers. In March 2021, Arvey was sexually harassed in the school washroom by a group of boys and yet again, no action was taken by school authorities despite Aarti filing complaints.
Aarti, a single mother, remains heartbroken yet strong in seeking justice for Arvey.
How has bullying become so normalised in our schools? Why don’t our schools take action against this blatant toxic masculinity? Why are we stuck in the dark ages when it comes to LGBTQA+ subjects?
This could have been an opportunity for school authorities to step in and sensitise students about the gender and sexuality spectrum, but it chose to ignore Arvey’s anguish despite complaints. Children today are being mocked and picked on for the slightest deviation from the norm. Not just sexuality, even things like skin colour, height, social, class background, and academic record are targets for bullies.
Indian queer children waking up to such horrible news has sadly, become the norm today. This incident is a result of a long list of issues facing our school system. An oppressive system that refuses to move with the times. Inclusivity of any kind is still not taught in our schools. Schools continue to fail students, treating them as robots and turning them into top grade churning machines.
According to a report by The Quint, just a few weeks before the tragedy the NCERT’s website published a guide for gender-neutral teaching strategies for schools. But this manual was hastily withdrawn within 48 hours after being bombarded with social media anger, hatred, and horrible transphobia.
The training materials’ main goal was to create sensitivity and integrate transgender and gender nonconforming students into the educational system, and give them access to an appropriate learning environment. The material attempted to define various concepts related to gender simply by listing various terminologies. The manual touched upon terms like gender dysphoria, gender expression, gender conformity, gender incongruence, and gender variance among others.
However, conservative forces have forced this withdrawal.
The root of the problem is known to all but change remains difficult. The fact remains that queer topics are still taboo in India. Gender identity is not exactly something that is discussed around Indian dinner tables; rather it is brushed under the carpet.
Our cis hetero normative social structures limit how gender is discussed. Our school textbooks that restrict subjects related to the gender spectrum and support heteronormativity are largely to blame for the lack of awareness. How can people be inclusive about something they know nothing about?
There are several contributors to the pervasive queerphobia on college campuses. Lack of sensitivity, and an unspoken yet strongly implemented taboo on speaking of gender and sexuality issues that restricts access to information play a large part.
Gender identity education and sensitisation must be taught in our schools so our children can become inclusive, empathetic adults. Children and adults must be taught to stop excluding the queer community from social gatherings, places of employment, leisure activities, and institutional settings. And we as a society must do better and develop empathy towards the countless queer children who are still lost and afraid, victimised by their peers and the school system.
Thank you Arvey for being yourself, and expressing yourself, you are not forgotten. We as a society owe you an apology for failing you, for the school system failing you. You deserved respect and empathy from all of us. You deserved better.
If you or anyone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call.Â
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore:Â 080â€“25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad:Â 040-66202000, 040-66202001
SPEAK2us – Tamilnadu 9375493754
Image source: Instagram and Instagram
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