In a refreshing move, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Monday launched the ‘Saatihya Resource Kit’, which seeks to train 1.6 lakh ‘peer educators’ to disburse sensitive and age-appropriate information on adolescent health issues to their peers.
The Saathiya kits are a part of the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) and was unveiled in New Delhi by CK Mishra, the Secretary for Health and Family Welfare.
Even as the section 377 of the IPC continues to be under criticism for criminalizing homosexuality, Abantika Ghosh reported for Indian Express that the Saathiya resource material normalises same-sex attraction and focuses instead of emphasizing consent and respect as the foundation for any such relationship.
The material says that not only do “adolescents frequently fall in love” but that “it is normal to have special feelings for someone”, including someone belonging to the same sex. It is okay to talk about them about these feelings, “but always in a respectful manner”, the text adds.
It also addresses gender stereotypes, contraception and gender-based violence in a progressive manner, along with substance abuse and STIs.
Prepared in partnership with UN Population Fund, the resource material says that while boys can cry to vent their feelings, girls can also “talk too much” and “like to dress like boys”. It also says that it is not right to attach labels like ‘sissy’ and ‘tomboy’ to such people.
Source: Ministry of Health/Twitter
The resource material is in Hindi and English, making it accessible to a chunk of population which does not speak English or is not comfortable with it. However, it is unclear if it will be made available in other languages. TNM could not get in touch with the Ministry for the clarification.
The Saathiya kit contains an activity book, a ‘Bhranti-Kranti game’, a question and answer book, and a peer educator diary, according to the PIB media release. An app called ‘Saathiya Salah’ is also available for download. The app will work as a “ready information source for the adolescents in case they are unable to interact with the Peer Educators,” the media release said.
Under the RKSK programme, peer educators will be trained all over India in a “phased manner” using the Saathiya kit.
Dr Sushma Dureja, Deputy Commissioner, Adolescent Health Division at the Health Ministry, said that peer educators would be two boys and two girls identified within each neighbourhood. They would be trained and then would work to raise awareness on adolescent health services, as per Neetu Chandra Sharma’s report in DNA.
“India is home to the highest adolescent population at 253 million. The kit will enable 1.6 lakh peer educators in taking their job forward and answering queries effectively,” said Mishra.
A toll-free Saathiya helpline is also set up (1800-233-1250) to act as an “e-counsellor”. The helpline, the Ministry hopes, will allow adolescents who are shy or unable to interact with the peer educators for some reasons, to access the right information.