(This story was originally published on 1 March 2022. It is being republished from The Quint's archives in light of the Faridabad Police apprehending two minors in connection with the case.)
(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)
“Being queer saved my life. Often we see queerness as deprivation. But when I look at my life, I saw that queerness demanded an alternative innovation from me. I had to make alternative routes; it made me curious; it made me ask, ‘Is this enough for me?’” — Poet Ocean Vuong
I remember one good day from the blur of my last year at school – my friend and I goofed around round patches of dewy flowers in our blue blazers as a foggy mist romanticised the campus’ grey cement buildings into a silhouette.
Despite our conditioning, we created a joy that didn’t need a purpose to exist and a slight giggle pierced through the numbness of pain-suppressing anti-depressants.
I cracked a smile at this slipping moment of our youth, grateful that this was how I would remember my last days of school. This is one memory I hold on to dearly, along with the few close friends who I’m grateful to have met at school.
But the recent loss of 16-year-old student from DPS Faridabad, brings back how the time spent in a school’s ecosystem has a longstanding influence on our relationships with ourselves.
'LGBTQI+ Youth Bullied More Than Three Times at Risk Of Suicide'
“I want to say that Delhi Public School is a supportive and sensitive school. Kids are nurtured here – and there’s no harassment here,” DPS Faridabad’s principal told the media recently, in a on the class 10 student's death by suicide.
It cannot be ignored that 54 percent of LGBTQI+ youth have experienced bullying in schools at least once because of their identity, as per a UNESCO study. Multiple studies also find that LGBTQI+ youth who are bullied are three times more likely to be at risk of suicide than those who haven’t.
The student was bullied about their sexuality, sexually harassed, and systemically shamed in school. When they advocated for the right to equity in accessing studies and exams in context to dyslexia, they were blamed for using neurodivergence as an excuse for “taking advantage.”
“We were encouraging [them], supporting [them] and providing [them] with all the necessary help… I know there were some personal issues…in terms of treatment etc were there. We are here to support students,” DPS Faridabad’s principal said.
What is the meaning of a “personal” issue when the issue is created by systemic harassment, torture, and violence?
While there are always many factors at play with mental distress, schools can contribute a significant portion to the “personal” issues that manifest within us.
'Feel Like I Have a Tumour Growing Inside Me'
Schools teach us that we are nothing if we are not committed to burning out. That there is something inherently wrong with us if we are not changing the world. That art is a waste of time.
That there is shame in doing what you love, falling in love. That guilt can become a way of life at the small cost of a lifetime of unlearning.
We stop going to school; stop leaving our beds; stop speaking to our friends; stop reading books; stop watching movies; stop listening to music; stop eating – first from a point of pointlessness, then from the hungry need to regain control of what and who we’ve lost.
“I feel like I have a tumour growing inside me,” I once told my therapist, and immediately felt guilty about comparing my pain to what my three grandparents experienced with cancer.
It was only after I embraced my trans-ness, that I could acknowledge that I had been really sick – not because I’m transgender, but because I was in a system that made me ashamed of myself.
Contrary to a widely held common belief, queer and trans folks are not sick for being who we are.
Rather, it’s the cisgender-heterosexual patriarchal gaze that needs to recover from its internalised wounds around gender, and needs to stop projecting its hurt onto us.
If it wasn’t for the access to love and language in university that helped me reframe the way I understood myself as a gender-nonconforming trans person, I wouldn’t have survived the guilt of feeling like my living was a mistake.
A Teacher & Parent's Support Is Lifesaving
Last year, NCERT released a downloadable guide to create gender and trans-affirming places by educating school teachers and administrators. But the guide was taken down soon after immense backlash, and anti-trans complaints from the National Commission for ‘Protection’ of Child Rights.
The folks who put in their time, labour, and effort in making schools and worlds safer and survivable for children, were violently harassed online by right-wing Hindutva trolls on Twitter.
“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. Don’t care what relatives say…” the teenager to their mom.
How is it that we allow schools to force children into giving their parents this type of strength, when the very existence of the force demanding this strength is a reflection of institutional violence?
A teacher and parent’s support can be lifesaving – LGBTQ youth with queer and trans-affirmative families, are about 50 percent likely to be at risk of suicide than those with families who are unsupportive.
Imagine the Isolation Mother-Son Would Have Faced
How much pain did our systems put the child through, to erase the possibility of living created by their mother’s support?
How isolating is it to be a mother fighting for your child when the world treats certain identities as disposable? Could their pain have been addressed if the trans-affirming NCERT guide for teachers had been implemented?
We might never know, but we know that the way school systems are designed now, LGBTQI+ youth will remain at risk of suicide, and institutional violence will repeat itself till we don’t center narratives by queer, trans, and intersex folks.
Dire Need for Schools to Make Active Commitment to Being an Ally
We need each school to make an active commitment towards giving teachers, students, parents, staff and caregivers the tools to dismantle their internalised toxic masculinity and patriarchal femininity, which are translating into violence against LGBTQI+ youth and adults.
For those who are hesitant:
What is the cost of choosing love over harassment?
Of seeing your children and students as people with multitudes, not machines?
Of adapting yourself so that your home and schools don’t keep exacerbating our exhaustion from fighting for our ability to live?
Queer and trans-affirmitive education are vital for all youth – it offers paths to liberation, with a commitment to finding and being our full selves. At the same time, we know that we can’t rely on institutions to protect us – we must rely on ourselves by unlearning this practice of superiority over youth.
LGBTQI+ youth know who they are, and adults need to trust in their child, rather than reproducing the violence of a cisgender-heteronormative binary.
To the 16-year-old teenager, I’m sorry that your right to rest was stripped away from you, that this world is built to erase our existence. I’m sorry that your being and becoming was stolen by an ableist, cis-heteronormative patriarchal structure. I'm sorry that society projected its own wounds of toxic masculinity rather than learning from your power in being who you were.
(Ragi Gupta (They/Them) is Head, Creative Content Management at Pixstory. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)