NCERT pulled up by Madras HC, told to begin training on transgender inclusion next year

The NCERT, which had taken down a teacher training material for inclusion of gender-nonconforming kids after right-wing backlash, has said that the material wasn’t finalised.
Children seated in a primary classroom during a lesson: NCERT was pulled up by Madras High Court, told to begin training on transgender inclusion next year
Children seated in a primary classroom during a lesson: NCERT was pulled up by Madras High Court, told to begin training on transgender inclusion next year
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After being pulled up by the Madras High Court for taking down a training manual for school teachers to make classrooms more inclusive for gender nonconforming children from its website, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has responded by saying that the material was yet to be reviewed and finalised. Claiming that the version uploaded on the NCERT website was a draft, the Deputy Secretary of NCERT told the court that the training material will undergo a three-stage review before it is rolled out. 

Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court said in an interim order on December 23 that the court expects the NCERT to finalise the training module and positively implement it during the next academic session. The court has also asked NCERT to file a status report on the ongoing review stage during the next date of hearing. 

The training material document was uploaded by NCERT on its website in September. It garnered attention in November after a news feature was published on Firstpost. The training manual was created with inputs from transgender scholars, professionals, and activists. While it was commended by many as a much-needed step, there was also a backlash from right-wing groups who called it “American propaganda.”

A complaint was filed with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), with ill-informed objections to the document’s acknowledgment that having binary toilets for boys and girls can be a problem for gender-nonconforming kids, and the mere mention of the term “puberty blockers”. Based on the complaint, the NCPCR asked NCERT to take appropriate action and to “rectify the anomalies” in the document. Around the same time, on November 4, the document was taken down from the website, fifty-six days after it was uploaded. 

Earlier on December 6, the Madras High Court was hearing compliance reports filed by various departments of the state and Union government on guidelines being followed to ensure the welfare of the LGBTQIA+ community, when Justice Anand Venkatesh had expressed concern over the way the training material was taken down from the NCERT website “without any valid reason.” He also referred to news reports about members of the NCERT’s Department of Gender Studies, who were involved in developing the material, being transferred out to other departments.  

According to Hindustan Times, Justice Anand Venkatesh had called the NCERT’s response a “knee-jerk reaction” and said that no one should be allowed to “arm twist a state-run council into forcibly withdrawing a material that came out after a long study by a committee.” In his order, he also called the training material an important development and said it was quite unfortunate that it was being nipped in the bud.

In its status report filed after this, the NCERT has claimed that the material was taken down because it was “yet to be reviewed, finalised and duly approved by the Competent Authority, NCERT,” and not “under any pressure.” Earlier on December 20, the Ministry of Education gave the same response in Parliament, claiming that the material was dropped because it was yet to go through multiple stages of finalisation. However, in a report on the transfers of faculty members involved in creating the manual, an official source was quoted by the Indian Express refuting the claim that there was no final approval, and saying that it was uploaded after due process. 

According to the NCERT, a meeting of internal experts, including three Deans, Head and faculty members of the Department of Gender Studies was held on November 17 to review the material, where it was found that it had “many gaps in its content and structure.” It was decided at the meeting that the material also requires a thorough review by external experts as well as different stakeholders of the school education system before making it a public document, the NCERT told the High Court. 

The NCERT’s Competent Authority will constitute a committee for a three-stage review, it said. The first stage will consist of a review of the existing material by various stakeholders (including teachers and nominated members from the National Council of Transgender Persons, NCPCR, and National Human Rights Commission), who will also “prepare the frame work of the module” and “identify the experts who will contribute in preparing the module,” in a Planning Group meeting. 

In the second stage, experts identified with the Planning Group will prepare the module in workshop mode, and in the third stage, the training module will be vetted by the Planning Group to finalise it, the NCERT has said. 

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