Despite the Supreme Court striking down the colonial-era law that criminalised homosexuality back in 2018, there still exists a deep-rooted social stigma against the LGBTQ community, keeping it socially isolated, and on several occasions blocking its access to much-needed legal aid and support, which could sometimes mean the difference between life and death
In a recent case, a Class X student of a school in Haryana’s Faridabad ended his life after suffering harassment and abuse from his schoolmates for years.
Indrajeet Ghorpade, who runs a digital LGBTQIA+ advocacy platform called‘Yes, We Exist’, says his Instagram page receives frequent messages from teenagers facing bullying and harassment after coming out as homosexuals. But the fear of landing in a legal soup keeps him from intervening, says Mr. Ghorpade.
Fear of law
“The hurdle is that many non-government organisations in this field refrain from taking up cases dealing with teenagers because they are scared of being booked under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. The social workers reaching out to help a minor could be wrongfully incarcerated, especially if there is a complaint from the parent alleging that such workers are putting ‘ideas into the child’s head’,” adds Mr. Ghorpade, who directs them to call the 1098 National Childline or the Anti-Ragging Helpline.
But in such cases, children are more comfortable in using social networking platforms to reach out for help or speak to those going through similar experiences than speaking to their own parents, says Mr. Ghorpade.
Shweta Sharma, clinical psychologist, Manipal Hospital, Gurugram, says that in her career of over a decade she has come across many people who were scared of asserting their sexual choices, and were living with depression and anxiety.
“Okay, the decriminalisation [of gay sex between consenting individuals] has happened, but it is the perception of the society that needs to be changed. Many more people are now asserting their sexual choices, but the parents are not ready to accept it. The parents want them to get married, have children and carry forward the family lineage. But it is not possible in case of same-sex marriage,” says Dr. Sharma.
Parents need counselling
The change, says Dr. Sharma, should begin even before school. It should begin at the level of the hospital.
“Parents often blame themselves for the sexual orientation of their children. If a child is born as a transgender, the parents need to be counselled at the hospital that they are not responsible for it. This is natural and we need to understand it,” she says.
Several people who have been working in this area feel that the change needs to come from teachers and the manner in which they deal with instances of bullying and harassment in class.
Meghna Mehra, from the All-India Queer Association, feels that teachers need to be sensitised at the B.Ed. level when they are being trained.
Need sensitive teachers
“If educators are homophobic, they enable bullying. We have reached out to schools and educators to have a dialogue, to sensitise them towards the needs of queer children but most principals are not in favour of us conducting such workshops in schools,” says Ms. Mehra.
However, there are schools in Gurugram that are leading the way in sensitising their students on subjects such as homosexuality. Not willing to be named, the principal of a prominent private school in an upscale neighbourhood says that regular workshops are held in the school on various topics, including homosexuality.
“We work on sensitising our students on homosexuality from Class IX onwards. During these sessions, the students are allowed to speak their minds, voice their concerns and give their feedback. What do they feel about the subject? What is the law? Is the law correct or not? What is their take on it? Then we work on them and counsel them,” says the principal.
“It is important to sensitise our children on homosexuality and LGBTQ community because when we talk about an inclusive school and an inclusive society, it does not only mean the differently abled children, it means all and sundry,” the principal sums up.