On Friday, 9 March, a group of twelve girls studying at the Kamala Girls’ School in Kolkata were allegedly called to the headmistress’ office and asked to individually write down that they were lesbians, indulging in obscene, “uncivilised” activities. Otherwise, they were told, they’ll face expulsion.
The school claims that it was acting on a complaint by a fellow student who said that the group of girls “hold hands”, “hug”, “put their hands inside each other’s blouses” and “feel up their skirts”. On Tuesday, 12 March, the headmistress called their parents and described this as “lesbian behaviour” which must be “treated”, unless the students wanted to get suspended.
West Bengal’s Education Minister Partha Chatterjee reacted to this by saying he “will not allow lesbianism in schools”. He also said that it is against Bengal’s culture.
The Quint reached out to members and activists of the queer community across the country to react to this. Here’s what they had to say.
(Editor’s Note: Some of the people we interviewed have raised objection to being called a part of the “queer” community. They say they’re a part of the mainstream community and would not like to be marginalised.)
“Would A Co-Ed School Ask Students To Write That They’re Heterosexual?”
When asked if a co-educational school would ever ask students to write that they are heterosexual, Avinava, a gender and sexuality researcher from Kolkata said, “that would never happen” .
“It shows how insensitive the school has been.”
I’m not even sure if those girls are lesbians or not. In fact, at this age, even they wouldn’t be sure! Most of the faculty must have very poor knowledge of intersectionality. Educational institutions have always been a place of violence against the queer community. And its not just the students, but also the faculty that perpetrates this. No one is asking the minister to “allow” homosexuality in schools. All we are saying is that don’t explicitly target homosexuals. This is unfortunately one of the only incidents that has been documented. There have been hundreds of such cases and no one talks about it. There is no redressal mechanism. Where will the students go? What I’ve faced in school twenty years ago, is exactly what is happening now.Avinava
“Teachers Need To Be Sensitised To Gender Issues”
Koyel Majumder, a queer activist, believes that the forcefulness with which the authority of the school and teachers were used to get a “confession” out of the girls is problematic.
Any kind of sexual activity in school premises will definitely be penalised by school authorities. But in this particular case, the way students have been forced to confess about homosexuality is shocking. When we are growing up, sexuality is a very important part of our being. We can talk about counseling in these schools, we also run the risk of “corrective counseling” where the teachers might want to “treat” the students. So as a first step, teachers must be sensitised on issues of gender and sexuality. Partha Chatterjee’s comment is like a reality check to understand that social media and hashtag activism and all these years of Pride Marches have yielded very little.Koel Majumder to The Quint.
“Where Education Ministers Don’t Believe in Evolution, is This Really a Surprise?”
Puja Nair, a junior editor at Gaysi, an online LGBT magazine, says this doesn’t come as a shock in a country where sex education is elusive to most and science has taken a backseat for fiction.
Children learn how to love and accept themselves and others from peer groups within the school. In the global world, when schools focus on teaching empathy, understanding and love for diverse people, cultures and life experiences, here we are still dwelling on age old ideas of right and wrong – something that is so, so subjective! The fact that these students were forced to ‘own up’ to their feelings almost points out to the fact that instead of supporting and aiding the growth of the child, schools now focus on what is ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’. It’s appalling how they forcefully sexualise the slightest affection, even in between friends. What are the children supposed to learn? That hugging their friends and showing affection has a one-way road to sexual satisfaction? A person is a person no matter what age they are of. A school or an education system has nothing to do with the personal lives of these students and instead should try and concentrate on making the lives of children in school less of a hellish experience.Puja Nair of Gaysi to The Quint
“We Are A Culture Of Love, Not Hate”
Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist who writes The Quint’s Sexolve column. Reacting to Chatterjee’s comments, he said accepting people for who they are is all that our culture is about.
No one should be forced to tell what their gender or sexuality is. They are both very personal. The teachers should know that the first line of empathy comes when you respect people’s spaces and don’t “predict” their sexuality. I don’t know if they were lesbian and I don’t care if the students are lesbian, because no one has ever bothered to know if someone is heterosexual. Similarly, it shouldn’t matter to us if the students are lesbian, or bisexual or if they were exploring and questioning. To the minister who says this is against our culture – we have a culture of loving and respecting people for who they are. We don’t have a culture of sexualising children. Sex and sexuality is not between our legs, it’s between our ears. It’s time to start educating our ministers and our politicians. The minister is being an ignorant fool and we can’t afford to have ignorant fools around us.Harish Iyer
“I Was Ridiculed In School, People Didn’t Know How to React to Me”
An inter-disciplinary artist, Sujoy Prasad, from Kolkata, recounted his experience in school. The need of the hour is to teach teachers how to react to non-heterosexual students, he said.
The teachers should resort to us! One of us should go speak to them. I have always been ridiculed in school because people thought I was “pansy” and “feminine” and “gay”. People didn’t know how to react to me. There were teachers who were feminine and were called names. Some of them had to “hide” their sexualities too. I feel very sorry for the kids and the parents. I wish the parents could take a bold stand against the teachers. What does “turning into lesbians” mean? Are they turning into beasts?Sujoy Prasad
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