Nazariya is committed to an India which respects and celebrates diversity of individuals and experiences. By spreading awareness about gender and sexuality, we reduce stigma associated with persons who do not conform to the majoritarian experiences. Our Constitution did not envision a society which shames people for being different, and silence only seeks to reinforce this kind of shame. We work with people in many different contexts to break this silence, so that we can begin to understand, respect, and celebrate our differences.
The articles published by OpIndia on 20.07.2020 and 21.07.2020 with regard to our work, are factually inaccurate, are misinformed, and contain deliberate distortions of the truth. Both articles were run without seeking any comments from us and fail any norms of journalistic standards and betray a fundamental lack of understanding on gender and sexual orientation.
The article on 20.07.2020, refers to a post published by us on our facebook page (@NazariyaQFRG) on 29.06.2018, more than 2 years ago. The author distorts the contents of the facebook post and he recklessly states that Nazariya is responsible for the “indoctrination” of children in the “toxic ideology of gender identity politics”. Our work with adolescents in school is carried out responsibly, in consultation with teaching staff, to make age appropriate information available to them. The aim of this work is to increase awareness and reduce bullying. We have provided further context subsequently.
This article was followed by another one on 21.07.2020 where the same author made entirely baseless allegations that Nazariya was distributing an adult colouring book to young students, which is factually inaccurate. The workshop took place in 2018 and the calendars-cum-adult colouring book was brought out in 2019. The book was intended for adults and never made available to those under the age of 18.
Both the articles are deliberately designed to misrepresent the careful and responsible work of Nazariya and its members so as to tarnish its reputation in the eyes of the public and incite hatred against them. OpIndia did nothing to dissuade the kind of online violence that was meted out to members of Nazariya. The articles have deliberately endangered the personal safety of Nazariya and its members, who have been receiving messages containing threats of sexual violence and sexually abusive messages. The second article names the members, Rituparna Borah, Ritambhara Mehta, and Purnima Gupta, all three of whom are women. It has also jeopardised its important crisis intervention work.
Our work and its legality
Our work on gender and sexuality is rooted in the principles and values enshrined in the Constitution of India. One of the central guarantees of the Constitution is that it protects the right of each person to develop themselves as human beings to the fullest extent. This right of self-determination means that persons are entitled to take decisions relating to the intimate aspects of their lives, including what they believe in, the food they eat, and the clothes they wear. Amongst these protected characteristics are a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
While outlining the contours of the right to privacy in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that a person is entitled to a private space where all the elements of one’s gender identity and sexual orientation are protected. A person has the inviolable right to determine how to exercise freedom in these aspects. Minorities, it recognised, face discrimination on account of their views being different from the mainstream and that the differential treatment of a person on the basis of their sexual orientation is deeply offensive to their dignity. Making available non-judgmental, frank and age-appropriate information on diversity in sexual orientation and gender identities, therefore, empowers persons to take decisions about themselves and exercise their rights. It is far from any form of “indoctrination”.
The Supreme Court in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438, recognized that one’s gender lies at the very core of a person’s identity. It acknowledged that gender does not exist in the binary and directed the recognition of trans* persons in their self-identified gender. This is protected by the right to equality, under Articles 14 and 15, the freedom of expression, under Article 19(1)(a), and privacy, dignity and health, under Article 21. It passed specific directions to reduce social stigma and ensure public awareness of the issues faced by trans* persons. Without a doubt, one of the manners in which stigma can be addressed is through education, which is one of our core objectives.
Building upon these legal developments, while reading down Section 377, Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court in Navtej Johar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 1, observed that sexuality is a fundamental experience through which persons experience their lives. Sexuality, it observed, is fluid and an individual has the freedom to ascertain her own desires. It further observed that growing up in a culture of silence that devalues non-normative sexual orientation has a severe adverse impact on the mental health of LGBTQ persons. It is this very silence that Nazariya has sought to pierce, by educating persons about gender and sexuality.
The suggestion in the articles published by OpIndia that gender identity is a western construct is completely unfounded. India, has had, and continues to have, diverse communities that transgress heterosexual and cisgender norms.
About the workshop mentioned in the first article
As a queer feminist organisation, we conduct workshops to facilitate a greater understanding of gender and sexuality, reduce stigma around being different and aim to reduce bullying and violence against LGBTQIA+ persons in schools. We enable participants to see the world from the lens of gender and sexuality in an age appropriate manner. We talk about issues faced by transgender persons and persons with intersex variations, the NALSA and Navtej Singh Johar judgements and right to self-determination of gender and sexual orientation. We also talk about issue of consent and sexual harassment.
This work is crucial because there is tremendous harassment of all kinds against children in schools on account of sexual orientation and gender identity, impacting their ability to access their fundamental right to education. A recent report of the International Commission of Jurists found that in India, “[e]ducational and training opportunities are often denied to LGBTQ persons due to harassment, bullying, and violence, school uniforms, dress codes, limitations on participation in sports, a lack of access to toilets, and even seating arrangements are often gendered in a male-female binary without appropriate accommodation for transgender persons. Difficulties in obtaining accurate gender identity documents, including school records, adversely affect employment prospects.”
A 2018 survey conducted by Samodaran and UNESCO of youth identifying as a gender or sexual minority, found that as many as 50% middle school students reported physical harassment, and 49% of them were asked to ignore the incidents. The impact of the harassment was major, with 63% students reported lower academic performance and 33.2% students reported that bullying played a key role in discontinuing school. Recent analysis of the CBSE board exams shows that an abysmal number of trans* persons are enrolled in school and the pass rate is decreasing. The pass percentage of trans* persons of class 10 decreased by 15.79% and those of class 12 decreased by 16.66 %. Clearly there is a systemic exclusion of LGBTQ persons from educational institutions.
The Yogyakarta Principles, approved by the Supreme Court in NALSA and Navtej Singh Johar, require that education be made inclusive and sensitive to persons from diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Principle 16 on the right to education states, “[e]nsure that education is directed to the development of each student’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, and responds to the needs of students of all sexual orientations and gender identities” and further “[e]nsure that education methods, curricula and resources serve to enhance understanding of and respect for, inter alia, diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, including the particular needs of students, their parents and family members related to these grounds.”
UNESCO says, “Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) lays the foundation for life and love. Yet too few young people have the knowledge and skills they need to grow up healthily and happily.” It further states that CSE is not just about sex, “It is about relationships, gender, puberty, consent, and sexual and reproductive health, for all young people.” UNESCO in one of its press statements in 2016 states that “Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) which is both inclusive and non-stigmatizing, and promotes gender equality and the rights of young people, plays a key role in the battle against sexual and gender-based violence. These were the findings presented by Senior Programme Specialist in Health Education at UNESCO, Joanna Herat, as part of a Plan UK event in London on 11 February.”
Research and evidence shows that sexuality education does not hasten sexual activity. In fact, it has a positive impact on safer sexual behaviours, delays sexual initiation and leads to a fall in sexually transmitted diseases. In a country like India where child sexual abuse and violence against women is a reality, it is very important to talk to young people about consent, gender, sexuality so that they can bring meaningful social change. The workshops that we carry out in schools have school staff present. We are aware that age appropriate information on gender-sexuality should be imparted to students and we carry out our work with responsibility.
About the 2019 Calendar mentioned in the second article
At Nazariya we realize the sensitivity of our material, we do not upload all of our resources online. The Calendars, described as a colouring book by OpIndia, are available on request only. If someone is interested to access the material, they get in touch with us, we vet their age and then make the calendar available to them. Under no circumstances, were they made the calendar available to school students. The student discount was available to students above the age of 18.
This is the exact information written on the colouring book-calendar of 2019: “At Nazariya, we believe that pleasure, desire, and self-care are intrinsically linked to gender and sexuality. Our hope for the 2019 planner is for you to explore these connections and celebrate queer bodies with us. Created by queer artists, the art in this planner is part of our effort to reclaim bodies that may often be fetishized, dismissed, ignored, or looked down upon. We invite you to actively engage in this process with us by making the art in these pages your own. We invite you to use this as an opportunity for self-care for yourselves and to be kind to your own bodies. Most of all, we invite you to have fun colouring in these glorious bodies.”
At no point was the calendar made available at our school workshops.
Nazariya is committed to a healthy discussion on diversity amongst sexual orientations and gender identities. The attempt by OpIndia through the articles it published and the hatred toward us that it has inflamed on social media is an attempt to enforce compulsory heterosexual and cisgender norms as the only acceptable form of existence in India. This is against the most basic values of the Constitution. We continue to work toward a society which allows persons to be who they are without shame.
Nazariya works towards creating safe spaces for queer women and trans* persons to seek refuge from their abusive families. We run a helpline from Monday to Friday (10 am to 6 pm) and counselling service 4 days a week for queer women and trans* persons. We have used the decisions of the Supreme Court to assist individuals access and enjoy their constitutional rights. This has included supporting individuals to approach court against wrongful confinement by their natal families and also asking for police protection. Some of our work has been covered here: