Two high school students from Kerala have been dismissed from their educational institution for exchanging a hug. Although the expulsion happened five months ago, it is only now that the news has reached the general public.
After the school reprimanded the two teenagers for the hug, the teachers went one step ahead and did the online version of the Peeping Tom. They procured pictures from a private Instagram account that supposedly shows the two of them sharing a certain level of intimacy. All hell broke loose, the boy was declared to be a "bull in heat", the girl a slut and the two of them were thrown out of the school.
Well done, Sherlock. Not.
Anyone would think the young people had planted a bomb on campus, started a riot or displayed some other kind of aberrant behaviour that adversely affected the lives of people around them. All that they did was, in fact, behave like teenagers do. Yes, people do fall in love and/or explore their sexuality before they get married and receive social sanction to do so. And no, people do not develop sexual feelings precisely on the day of their wedding.
If the teachers and staff of St Thomas Central School, Thiruvananthapuram, were honest about their recollection of adolescence, one wonders how many of them would declare that they only thought about algebra all day long. Did they never harbour feelings of attraction towards fellow students? Did they only focus on the Board exams as they were told to?
Interestingly, we're hearing of this news close on the heels of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's decision to ban condom ads between 6am and 10pm on TV channels. The reasoning is that these ads may "corrupt" the minds of the young, never mind that learning about condoms could potentially prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
ICRW data says 47% of married girls/women in the country are less than 18 years of age. The Census of India puts this figure at 43.4%. While the SC recently ruled that sex with a child bride should be considered rape, the central government had actually argued against such a ruling, making the plea that the institution of marriage must be protected.
The discomfort with sexually active adolescents then, is not as much to do with their age as with the fact that they are not married. Even if they may be in a consensual relationship as opposed to being forced into an institution by their parents and immediate society. Hypocrisy much?
While the school may be well within their rights to decide what the code of conduct should be on campus, it is surely an overreach to snoop into the private lives of their students and hold them to task for "indiscipline" outside the school campus.
Let's say the school does not allow children to eat junk food on campus. Would they penalise them for eating a pizza at home or in a restaurant? Would they take the effort to do Facebook "research", find pictures of them eating burgers and expel them for it?
Even if the school deems a hug to be a matter of concern, it is mind-boggling that their response to the situation should be name-calling and expulsion rather than speak to the students about their concerns. While the older generation may be uncomfortable with public displays of affection (how many of us have grown up seeing our parents exchange a friendly hug or kiss in the drawing room?), young people tend to be freer in expressing themselves physically. If this is not acceptable in school (why not is another debate), the authorities must know better than to take such drastic measures as expulsion.
In this case, the parents of the teenagers were aware about their friendship and were fine with it. How is it any of the school's business to make such an "intervention"? Is the school a kingdom and the students its subjects? Does the principal's "throne" hold limitless powers over them? The Kerala HC, which quashed the Child Rights Commission's interim order to allow the students to continue their education, appears to believe so.
Growing up, transforming from a child to an adult, does not happen one fine morning. It is a gradual process where the physical, mental, and emotional make-up of a child grows into adulthood. Exploring one's sexuality is a vital part of this and living in denial is not going to get us anywhere.
As this 2010 report shows, children become sexually active much earlier than the adults around them presume. What responsible adults should do is speak to their children - the ones they've birthed and the ones they are in the position to influence - about consent, abuse, and safety.
Burying our head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich is of no use whatsoever. Perhaps schools should think of providing sex education and counseling to their teachers and staff before taking it to the students. From the looks of it, many adults in the country are in desperate need of such conversations.