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NCERT Releases New Draft On Inclusion Of Trans Children, Vouches For Gender Neutral Uniform, Remains Silent On Queerness

The NCERT's training manual titled "Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap" was previously dropped after complaints from NCPCR.

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Gender Neutral Uniform in Keralas Valayanchirangara government Lower Primary School in Ernakulam district
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A year after the removal of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) document on the inclusion of transgender children in schools, the NCERT has drafted a new module prepared by a newly constituted 16-member committee. Titled "Integrating Transgender Concerns in Schooling Processes", the training module addressed transgender concerns, suggesting teaching methods in order to develop an inclusive environment in education centres.

The new module highlights the struggles of trans students and suggests regular workshops, outreach programs, and gender-neutral school uniforms that are not gender-conforming to create conducive surrounding. It further aims to bust myths and taboos surrounding the transgender community. The draft lays down that students from class sixth and onwards often have different clothing preferences, including school uniforms, and may not feel comfortable in a particular uniform, citing that students across many schools wear pants and shirts for uniforms that are not only comfortable but also androgynous.

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Underlining the multiple challenges experienced by trans children and students, the draft includes emotional, physical, and behavioral trauma, coming to terms with their own sexuality, use of washrooms and uniforms, mocking and bullying, sexual abuse and molestation, and choosing a character or role in a school play. In order to address these issues, it recommends organising outreach programme through parent-teacher meetings focusing on gender diversity, adding that regular workshops be conducted to further spread the ideals of self-affirming practices and policies.

Stressing that no gender-based discrimination be followed in the appointment of various academic, non-academic, and housekeeping staff, the module suggests including the transgender category in application forms and in all the certificates for courses in educational institutions. The module further suggests the school bodies/committees formed to address ragging, bullying, and child sexual abuse, also include “preventing gender-based violation”, and assimilating the transgender community along with teachers and school counselors.

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While the new manual initiates a step towards trans-inclusion, it is a step back from the suggestions the former draft had made which was dropped after complaints from the National Commission for Protection of  Child Rights (NCPCR) on grounds of denying equal rights to children of diverse biological needs.

The NCERT's previous training manual, titled "Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap",  was aimed to educate and sensitise schools, teachers, and administrations towards the LGBTQ community and different gender orientations. It suggested practices and strategies to make schools sensitive and inclusive for transgender and gender non-conforming children. The manual, however, was criticised by the NCPCR and other right wing outfits. Eventually, the NCERT deleted it from its website on November 6, 2021.

These methods and strategies included provision for gender-neutral toilets and uniforms, sensitisation on non-teaching staff, discontinuing practices that segregate children into various school activities based on their gender, and inviting members of the transgender community to speak on campus, among others. NCPCR Chairperson Priyank Kanoongo was reported stating that the manual will expose children to “unnecessary psychological trauma” and the idea of removing binaries will supposedly contradict the idea of creating an inclusive environment.

The NCPCR sought changes in the document asserting that NCERT's gender-neutral teacher training manual will deny equal rights to children of diverse biological needs and that gender-neutral infrastructure for children does not commensurate with their gender realities and basic needs.

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"It is also highlighted in the manual (chapter 3) that teachers are suggested to discuss with students about puberty blockers and its availability for adolescents," a letter from the NCPCR to the NCERT read. 

The Ministry of Education informed the Parliament later that the manual "was dropped because it had to undergo various stages of finalization before its release".

Further, a report in The Indian Express pointed out how the new draft keeps mum on underlying issues like caste and patriarchy. While the previous manual categorically stated that while there is evidence of diverse genders and gender expression being socially accepted in the sub-continent since the Vedic Age, “the dominant social system of caste patriarchy in India had relegated transgender persons to occupations that are stigmatised”, there is no acknowledgment of power, class, caste, patriarchy; etc to explain the factors responsible for trans exclusion and discrimination.

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