Even as a national discourse on sexual abuse of children is underway following the Kathua rape case, it has come to light that the Tamil Nadu government has been peddling sexist and victim-blaming views in its school textbooks. Ironically, these portions are part of a section of the Class 8 science textbook under the Samacheer Kalvi system, which explains how to prevent child sexual abuse.
A chapter called 'Reaching the Age of Adolescence' in the textbook aims to prevent and protect children from sexual and other forms of abuse. What it actually does is place the onus of preventing abuse on the potential victims.
Among the āpreventiveā measures suggested in this textbook, used by children across that state, are: 'Donāt wear provocative dresses', 'Take care of the way you sit' and 'When you are going to school by auto, bus or by train keep distance from the other sex.'
When TNM contacted G Arivoli, the director of the State Council for Educational Research and Training over the issue, his first question was, "This textbook has been in existence for 12 years. Why are you bringing it to our notice now? Nobody has complained till now."
When asked how that makes the content acceptable, he said, "We are currently only revising books for Class one, six, eleven and twelve. This is already time consuming and we are yet to see what existing books contain. I will see what can be done."
Brinda Sethu, mother of a 13-year-old girl child who is being taught the Samacheer Kalvi syllabus at school, is outraged by the content and the effect it would have on her child.
"We need to remove the notion that children are responsible for the abuse. Moreover, these are specifically directed at girl children. How will the views of boys change if we allow such things to exist in our school syllabus? Boys will neither understand that girls are their equals nor how to treat them, if we leave this unchanged. The fact that there has been no complaint is not an excuse to allow these mistakes to stay," she says.
Child rights activists, however, point out that this was hardly a āmistakeā. It was intentional, they argue.
"This is merely a reflection of the existing mindset in society. It has just been printed out. This is just another case of victim-blaming," says Sherin Bosko, the founder of Nakshatra.
She further recalls how even members of the government who are supposed to protect the victim, often take to blaming them, "In 2014, a woman officer from the Child Welfare Committee came to meet a minor sexual assault victim. The minute she saw the small girl, she told her sit properly. The child was on a hospital bed. She then proceeded to lecture the mother about how such incidents happen because girls are not taught how to behave in public.ā