Understanding Sexuality in Contemporary India

In schools, universities and colleges across India, we are often taught of the importance of diversity, unity and inclusion within our society. These are lessons which permeate our culture, and it was Gandhi who extolled the virtues of unity in diversity. While this side of morality is frequently repeated to us throughout childhood and into adolescence, a gaping hole remains surrounding the topic of sex as we grow up. Consequently, we develop without a basic understanding of all things sex-related, and in turn this leads to misunderstanding of associated issues such as gender fluidity, sexual preference and safe sex practices.

Shilok Mukkati, 20, is a Bangalore-based student and part-time radio host. Identifying as a transgender woman, Shilok feels the public are unable to see past her psychical appearance.

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Despite this, she has overlooked the lack of respect and unacceptance encountered among people around her: fellow students, peers, and even adults.

When reading aloud in Grade 10, she was mocked both by students and her teacher, telling her derogatorily that she sounded like a “hijra begging at the railway station.”

As she cried tears of embarrassment and dejection, without support, she chose to end her life. Preparing to hang herself, Shilok stopped herself at the last minute by the thought of new dance costumes going to waste if she wasn’t alive to wear them. In her own words, her ability to look on the bright side saved her life, and shaped her personality today.

Growing up, still fending questions about her sexuality from her own mind, and not being able to come to terms with it, Shilok was mocked, labeled and bullied by fellow students in her school. If that wasn’t enough, she was also sexually abused and harassed. In a state of mental turmoil, the pressure from the outside world was becoming unbearable. Even now, she deals with negative labels, outmoded opinions and rude stares on a daily basis.

 Other transgender people in India face the same criticism. The Indian LGBTQ community is victimized by discrimination, labeling, violence, ostracization from family and society: a situation that most of us can’t even begin to imagine.

If schools across India taught comprehensive sex education, students would, at very least, benefit from a basic understanding of sex and sexuality. The only legal document concerning this essential need is The National Health Policy (2002) which acknowledges the need for sex education among adolescents. Unfortunately, however, this is not a national policy and as such healthcare professionals aren’t yet acclimatized to the needs of adolescents.

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Sex has always been taboo in India, and continues to remain so, with parents, teachers, and government officials adamant that sex education is not a requirement in schools.

The arguments against sex education range from how it teaches children to have sex at an early age, to fears that it will turn children into homosexual, sex -crazed deviants. What policy makers fail to grasp is children are innately curious about sex from a young age, and the only way to ensure their curiosity is addressed is to educate them. Failing to do so simply fosters ignorance.

If our youth isn’t educated about sex, and alternate sexualities, how will children learn to deal with, accept and respect them?

In a country with the fastest growing population and a high rate of sexual abuse amongst both children and adults, where people cannot see a direct need for sex education in schools, how do we ensure a bright future – free from abuse, stigmatism and misunderstanding – for Shilok and others like her?