For Transgender Persons, Discrimination Begins in Schools

The recently announced board results shed renewed light on what was well known already: transgender students are that much more likely to drop out of school.

The Central Board of Secondary Education results for classes 10 and 12 were declared on July 13, 2020, and July 15, 2020, respectively.

As per the CBSE press release, there were 1,889,878 candidates in class 10 and 1,206,893 candidates in class 12. Among the students who registered for class 10 exam, 7,88,195 were girls, 11,01,664 were boys and 19 were transgender persons. For class 12, 5,22,819 were girls, 6,84,068 were boys, and six were transgender persons.

There has been a spike in the percentage of students from class 10 and 12 who have passed this year. The pass percentage of class 10 students has increased by 0.36% and that of class 12 students has increased by 5.38%. It has been considered a significant achievement by various education departments across India. But the pass percentage of transgender persons has been widely ignored.

Ignored percentages

The pass percentage of transgender persons of class 10 has decreased by 15.79% and those of class 12 has decreased by 16.66 %. This data has slipped under the radar.

Also read: Barred, Bullied, Depressed: Life for Many US Trans Students

In India, the total population of transgender persons is around 4,87,803 with a literacy rate of 57.06% according to the 2011 Census. In 2011, there were 54,854 transgender children below the age of six. These children are now between the ages of 10 and 16 and should currently be in schools.

This prompts a few important questions:

Why is there a slide in the academic performance of transgender persons? Why are they being constantly neglected by our education system? There were only 19 transgender students in class 12 and six transgender students in class 10 who appeared for the board exams. Where are the other transgender children whose presence had been recorded by the Census?

Bullying of transgender persons is a widely prevalent phenomenon across the country. In interviews conducted for International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) report 2019, a transgender man from Bengaluru had said, “It [studying] became hard for me because everyone made fun of me, they didn’t sit with me, and they didn’t even touch me as if I had some disease. The teachers also sometimes made me sit separately. I felt troubled both at home and in school, so I decided to stop school”.

Lack of awareness about gender identity has led not only students but also teachers to be participants in bullying and harassment. In another interview, a gay cis-gendered man from Kochi recalled how he had been bullied by a teacher and by other students:

“When I was in 12th standard, one of my English teachers asked me to read something aloud. When I took my textbook in hand, I was not able to read in an as loud, or in as masculine a way as she had expected. She took a stick and hit me and abused me using derogatory words in Malayalam, like chantupottu and annum pennumkettathu. The entire class was looking at me. I was crying…I just immediately ran away, vomiting. Till my final year exam, I did not sit in that class. During her hour, I would stand outside. I did not speak with her. I was really closed up after that. I was not able to talk to anyone.”

Such incidents highlight the lack of sensitivity and awareness in our educational institutions. The challenges faced by transgender students in our schools are real and need to be addressed by our education system. Like our mindsets, our institutions are trained to only divide persons into the heterosexual binary of male and female.

From our school uniforms to seating arrangements, from the school assembly to the washrooms, this binary expression does not acknowledge the existence of transgender persons. This impacts their mental health to a great extent and results in high school dropout rates.

Transgender students outside schools

As per a 2017 report of the National Human Rights Commission, 79% of transgender people either live in rented rooms or share accommodations with others, and 52.61% of transgender people have a monthly income below Rs. 10,000. Most transgender persons do not have a voter identity card or Aadhaar card. This makes it difficult for them to availing themselves of their constitutional rights and government schemes.

A majority of transgender persons do not have access to various career opportunities, as a result. And even when they get a chance to be part of mainstream professions, they face verbal and sexual harassment or frequent bullying and discrimination by co-workers.

Also read: Coronavirus Has Compounded the Ostracisation of LGBTQ Community

The socio-economic situation of transgender people in our country clearly indicates that education is out of reach for them. Their major concern is survival. Education is still seen as a luxury by them. Transgender children deal with social stigma outside schools as well as they are not accepted as dignified members of society by people. Hence, making schools and educational institutions ‘trans friendly’ is the urgent need of the hour.

In other words, transgender persons in general and transgender students, in particular, are being continually ignored by successive governments and policymakers. Just giving them a separate category of gender to tick in forms will not solve their problems.

Transgender students need constant representation and support in the education system so that stigmas pertaining to their identity can be addressed. Gender-inclusive education and curriculum can only lead to transformation in mainstream social perceptions.

As Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender activist once said, “I don’t want anything else, just treat me with dignity and normalise our existence in the society. I don’t want your sympathy. I want your love and respect.” And this longing for dignity and love can only end with gender-sensitive social spaces and a gender-inclusive education system.

Bhumika Rajdev is a social science teacher at a school in Delhi.