Cinema

Thinking outside the box

DOCUMENTING REALITY: A sill from the film   | Photo Credit: 25dmcstill

Can education be a site of violence? This provocative question was at the heart of Bioscope: Non-Binary Conversations on Education and Gender, a documentary screened recently in the Capital. Conceptualised and produced by Nirantar, an organisation that works in the areas of gender and education, and made by Samreen Farooqui and Shabani Hassanwalia, the film looks at how schools in India treat transgenders.

“Last to last year, we decided that we should bring out something for the women’s movement, and for the education sector, to make them realise the importance of transgenders and also the violations transgender kids face. Education is very heteronormative. It only understands binaries, it doesn’t talk about transgression of any kind,” says Rituparna Borah, a member of Nirantar and part of the team that conceptualised the film.

The characters of the film inhabit a broad spectrum of gender identities, from transmen and transwomen to genderqueer. They are Rajarshi, an assistant professor of history, Nrrups, a car dealer, Sunil, a documentarian of LGBTQ histories, and Debdas, a kothi and a maths tutor.

Through interviews with them, the film brings to light instances of physical and psychological violence faced by them as schoolchildren. Debdas remembers his breasts being pinched in classroom, and being kicked around and bullied for who he is, by fellow students as well as teachers, while Sunil relates how the inability to dress in accordance to her wishes eventually led to her dropping out. In a poignant sequence, when asked with which emotion she remembers her school days, Sunil says loneliness — the feeling of not having anyone to talk to.

This loneliness is experienced in different degrees by the other characters too. While Nrrups relates his school friends’ inability to understand his gender identity, Rajarshi talks about how he struggled with himself for a long time.

The education apparatus has no imagination of the transgender, and therefore it forces them into submission, into one of the two boxes. Often transgender kids drop out to escape everyday ignominy. It might be convenient to view these instances as a school’s pragmatism, or an individual’s choice, but they are, the film argues, nothing short of violence.

“Whenever we try to talk about trans kids, they say ‘we don’t know. We haven’t ever seen such kids’,” says Rituparna. The film is intended as an advocacy tool, whose first step is to make visible the reality of transgender students. The next step is to foster a more humane environment for them in scools, by devising curricula that takes a more holistic view of gender and also by changing attitudes of teachers and students.

The film was followed by a panel discussion between Dipta Bhog, a founder member of Nirantar; Akshay Khanna, an anthropologist currently with IDS, Sussex, and Suchi, a genderqueer interior designer. While Dipta pointed to the absence of a pedagogy to talk about desire in schools, Akshay called for a need to look at violence in a broader, not necessarily legal, sense, which recognises its everyday nature, and does not insist on violation as proof.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 8:39:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/thinking-outside-the-box/article5614727.ece

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