Personal Stories

A Place Where Children Go to Die? Schools In India Need To Do Better For Queer, Neurodivergent Children

Due to its sordid origins, the Indian educational system - which has largely been borrowed and updated through Anglicisation, and is heavily laced with casteism - neglects the diverse backgrounds and cultural outlooks of the children it is meant to serve.

A year ago, I wrote a candid piece for Gaysi about queer-affirming childhood. In this piece, I spoke briefly of experiences of bullying in schools.

A year later, I mourn the death of a 16-year old – a death perpetrated by the violence of cruel, systemic, homophobic ableism in schools today. Schools are “supposed to be” safe spaces that nourish and nurture your authentic, true, vibrant self. For queer children, from day one, schools encourage different forms of bullying, resonating with and reflecting the systemic, patriarchal, colonial structures from where they originated.

Due to its sordid origins, the Indian educational system – which has largely been borrowed and updated through Anglicisation, and is heavily laced with casteism – neglects the diverse backgrounds and cultural outlooks of the children it is meant to serve. This was completely consistent with the notions of Anglican morality, which promoted socially constructed versions of masculinity. So, children are actively encouraged to “man up,” or face the consequences of homophobic bullying from peers – with verbal, physical and emotional harassment, often leading to traumatic scars. This often leads queer kids to grow up with diminished body image and severe gender dysmorphia. And so much hatred: for the world and themselves.

What baffles me is the reluctance of teachers and formal figures of authority to intervene in cases of severe debilitating bullying. While I understand the confines of cis-heteronormativity might, perhaps, prevent the teachers’ lack of understanding of multiple sexualities, what stops them from being decent human beings? What stops them from enforcing disciplinary action or discouraging bullies from repeated incidents?!

Queer parents often have to be doubly observant and sensitive to their child’s progress and for any signs of trauma and keep a close watch by actively participating in their child’s schooling. This understandably comes from their keen and close understanding of their child’s emotional needs, strengthened by a desire to protect them from further harm. However, in schools, teachers and peers inflict casual, consistent harm on queer kids, policing their dressing, speech, gait, and to a great extent, their social interactions. Nine of ten queer people I have interacted with, and almost all queer parents I spoke to, agreed that queer childhood often involved incidents of bullying & harassment. It’s a rarity to find children who had a completely safe educational environment.

Why do our schools fail so terribly at keeping queer kids safe?
Are they even trying to protect queer kids?
Schools in Karnataka actively started religious policing last week: are we truly not far away from a future where formalised gender policing might also be a reality?

Neurodivergent students are forced to endure traumatic teaching methods, reinforcing ableist mindsets, due to poor awareness of learning disabilities. I have noticed this first-hand, in my two years as an educator, in a suburban environment, where awareness of educators is also hindered by existing structural gaps in the system. These issues are specially compounded for queer children, who are also neurodivergent. As the NCERT training manual still remains inaccessible to teachers, how do we expect teaching methods to undergo a reform to enable teaching and care along the lines of the Section 377 verdict: “Members of LGBT community members and their family members owe an apology from society for being denied equal rights over the years.” It’s high time children and parents of LGBTQIA+  children implore for these changes, this “long overdue apology” that has been guaranteed to us by this landmark verdict.

Systemically, queer students in conservative cities grow up becoming a version of themselves that they unpack in urban liberal safe nourishing spaces, much later in their adulthood. Horror tales and scars of childhood bullying manifest into adulthood, through poor self-esteem, crippling body image issues, and severe dysmorphia. While mental health institutions are coming to terms with acknowledging this systemic, inter-generational violence, will we ever come close to a future where educational systems innately value and create psychologically safe spaces for children of each and every stroke?

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Raju Behara, a genderqueer panromantic neurodivergent feminist, who spends their days writing for the pharma industry, and evenings dabbling as a poet. They consider Bengaluru home, and are extremely passionate about fostering safe spaces for queer folks through peer support. They are currently working on rewriting queerscapes through poetry, via Queer Judgements Project, as an independent researcher.
Raju Behara

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