'Knee-Jerk Reaction': Madras HC Slams NCERT's Removal of Transgender-Inclusive Manual

'It is quite unfortunate that such an important development was nipped in the bud.'

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New Delhi: The Madras high court has slammed the NCERT’s decision to take down its report on transgender and gender non-conforming children from its website.

In October 2021, NCERT or National Council Of Educational Research And Training had released a report titled ‘Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap’. The report was to function as a teacher-training manual and carried elaborations on gender identity and fluidity among other concepts, largely to ensure that children of all gender backgrounds found place and acceptance in the classroom.

However, the report was taken down within hours of its publication, after backlash on social media and elsewhere. In a report for The Wire, Sayantan Datta had written that the first signs of outrage were on Twitter, in response to a report by the news outlet Firstpost on the NCERT manual.

Crucially, according to the manual, only 19 and six transgender students registered respectively for Class 10 and Class 12 exams conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education in 2020, although a high pass percentage among transgender students indicates that this “abysmally low” number of transgender students in schools is not a result of diminished intelligence or lack of interest in learning.

“This court is unable to understand the need for such a knee jerk reaction within hours of the material getting uploaded on the website,” the Madras high court has observed, according to LiveLaw.

The court also noted that grievances should be addressed properly, through consultations and meetings, and that “no one can be allowed to arm twist a State-run council into forcibly withdrawing material that came out after a long study by a committee.”

In June, the Madras high court judge, Justice Anand Venkatesh had issued several guidelines to ensure the safety of the LGBTQI community and the prevention of their harassment in the hands of authorities.

As The Wire has reported, the judge also called for sweeping reforms, among which were sending police and government officials to awareness training to ensure they respect LGBTQI rights. Medical practitioners who claim to be able to “cure” homosexuality should have their licenses revoked, he said.

Justice Venkatesh was hearing a writ petition filed by two women seeking protection from the police, who had been informed of their relationship by their parents, who were against it.

The court appreciated the NCERT’s plan while examining compliance reports filed since the June judgment by Justice Venkatesh. Observing that a teacher is an essential bridge between a parent and child and that her sensitisation in this regard is thus of paramount importance, the court deemed the sudden removal of the report unjustified.

“It is quite unfortunate that such an important development was nipped in the bud. This development only reminds this Court that a continuous follow-up is required to bring in changes in the prevailing education system,” it said.

Noting that the report by the expert body cannot be disregarded over opposition from certain quarters, the court has also asked NCERT to submit a recommendation based on the report of the erstwhile committee on the next date of hearing, LiveLaw has reported.

“In a democratic country like India, discussions and consultations must form the basis for any policy and pressure tactics cannot be allowed to shut down any policy, and if such an attitude is encouraged, it poses a greater danger to the fabric of this nation. This Court therefore expects NCERT to come up with a status report on this issue before the next date of hearing,” it said.