Monday, April 28, 2008

Sex And The Classroom

The boys in my class often pinch the girls' chests," says a seven-year-old to his elder sister. "But there's nothing there," she replies, trying to sound normal. "Of course there is, some girls' chests are so big," says the second-grader.

"He goes under the chair and puts his hands up our legs," says a nine-year-old, giggling, to her cousin, referring to her classmate and neighbour. The offender is asked, "Why do you do that?"

"I was just searching for my eraser that had fallen under her chair. She refused to move her legs aside," he says, looking confused.

"You don't have what we do. You just have a hole between your legs," gloats an 11-year-old to his younger sister.

"I dropped my pencil," announces a 12-year-old boy in class. "You dropped your pencil?" is the echo from his classmates, accompanied by coughs and sniggers. Pencil, of course, does mean something else here. "Ok ok, I dropped my stationery pencil," says the boy. Pen and pen-cap, pencil and pencil-box, pencil and sharpener, these objects of everyday use suddenly become passwords of an exciting and forbidden world. "Pass the ball" is another line designed to send everyone on the field into paroxysms.

While boys have been caught masturbating in school loos, one eighth standard boy who stayed behind in class during the break to do his homework, received an education of another kind—the girls in the class drew a nude female on the blackboard, with a penis coming out of it.

"My friends would often talk about ejaculation when I was in the fifth standard, and I used to wonder what it was. The way they talked, I wanted to move away. It all felt filthy," recalls a ninth standard student. "In fact, one of my friends always gets strange dreams when we talk about all this. She feels really insecure. But she doesn't know whom to talk to about it."

'Slut' and 'prostitute' are common abuses that boys give girls, says a 13-year-old. Why isn't all this being reported to teachers? "Because you immediately become unpopular."

Considering the realities of Indian classrooms today, the recent uproar of Maharashtra's MLAs against the state government's plans to introduce sex education in schools is based on an obsolete fear—pollution of young minds. That the government has now frozen its ambitious plans is unfortunate in a country where sexual intelligence is abysmal. A gynaecologist who has given talks on sex education to school and college students says that there is an appalling ignorance in adolescents and even the older youth about menstruation, pregnancy and contraception. "Science students at least learn about the reproductive system at some stage. Arts students are absolutely ignorant." In her practice, first in KEM hospital and then in her own clinic, she has seen cases of teenage pregnancy where the girl, unaware that she is already two months pregnant, cannot even explain how it happened. "He did something," is the common explanation.

She has found similar ignorance in newly married couples, aged 18 or 19, who suddenly find themselves expecting their first, unwanted child. "No one told us what to do," they say when questioned about family planning. Harsh Sadani, founder-member of MAVA (Men against Violence and Abuse), who, along with other activists, has been persuading the Maharashtra government to introduce "sexuality education" in schools, points to these statistics of the Family Planning Association of India: 31% of girls and 33% boys in the age group of 12-19 years get married, while 60% of married girls (aged 15-19 years) have unwanted pregnancies. 48% school boys and 39% girls face some form of sexual abuse (ranging from inappropriate touch, exposure to pornography or violent sexual assault). The age of maximum abuse is between nine and 12 years, according to the National Study on Child Abuse 2007 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. "Children must learn to say NO," says Harsh. "Girls, of course, need to learn it, but so do boys, to resist peer pressure to perform any sexual act, watch blue films, or to go to sex workers. They need to learn to respect each other's bodies."

The young have been vocal about their confusion in sexual matters. "We should have someone to talk to, who can penetrate our minds," says a 14-year-old. "We cannot talk about this with our mothers. How do we frame the question?" As a consequence, Mumbai Mirror's 'sexpert' column is a hit with school kids, who can barely comprehend the situations being spoken about. When caught reading the column, schools simply inform the parents. The uncontrolled sexual energy of adolescents leads to incidents that ruin lives. MMS clips of unsuspecting school girls that are passed around by their classmates and eventually released into the internet space, is a cruelty that is birthed in a male adolescent desperation. Schools need to address such issues.

With sex in the air all around them, every relationship is seen by schoolkids as unnatural, but exciting. A seventh standard teacher says that she has to think really hard when children in her class report to her that so-and-so 'loves' so-and so. "I've told them one can love many people; don't we all love our family? Love is not a bad word." This is probably as far 'sex education' can go in this country. But, obviously, children need more guidance than this. Mumbai's lawmakers simply do not comprehend the enormity of the issue.

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