Wednesday 3 September 2008

Denying Young People the Right to Know

April 2002. The CII hosts a conference on the ‘Social and Ethical Breakdown in India – What shall we the people do?’ a concerned attempt post the Godhra Riots to garner citizen action. A girl of 17 finds herself on a panel in that session. She has been asked to speak on what young people in India feel about the riots. Seems simple enough.

Except it wasn’t. When I tried to comprehend what a generation of young people in India felt about fundamentalist riots in a secular democracy, I didn’t understand much at all. It hit me hard, that despite my privileged educational background, I didn’t have an informed opinion and that although I was articulate; I was completely disconnected.

17 was 6 years ago. Today, I run The Youth Parliament, now known as The YP Foundation. An organization that provides young people with the financial, emotional and infrastructural resources required to develop their own projects that target social, cultural, economic, legal and environmental issues that they are committed to. Since 2002, we have directly supported the work of over 950 young people through over 100 projects.

We work in varied fields, from community initiatives with street and slum children and the transgender community, projects on the performing and visual arts, literary and research projects, workshops, research, government and advocacy work through different issues, countering many stereotypes. The ones that say we don’t do any work because we are an urban or a youth organization, or because we are seemingly elitist.

Popular issues that come to us talk about comprehending Gender, Identity, Health, Sexuality, HIV/AIDS, Substance Abuse and Life Skills. They never fail to throw up this consistent question, seemingly globalized, yet hiding in conventional shadows, behind shame, embarrassment and of late, illegality. And it makes me wonder.

Why is sexuality so problematic?

India’s recent reactions to sexuality are a reason for serious alarm and concern. The banning of Sexuality Education in 11 states across the country in 2007 was a backlash reaction to the NACO endorsed Sex Education Curriculum that was introduced. The complaints in short? Graphic illustrations, explicit text and an inappropriate AEP (Adolescent Education Programme).

After consultations, the curriculum was sent back to NACO. What has returned in the second draft is even more horrifying. This new curriculum sets us back even further with inadequate information, incomprehensive pictorial representation and the ultimate trap of preaching abstinence. Has the PEPFAR policy taught us nothing?

It’s a telling statement when the country’s National AIDS Control Programme is asked to develop the Sexuality Education framework and not Ministries that work with Health or Education. Arguments based on Sexuality Education not being ‘Indian enough’ or ‘corrupting young minds’ are both false and inaccurate, as WHO studies have shown. In a country where 11 million abortions take place annually of which 1-10 % of abortion-seekers in India are adolescents, where there is a huge unmet need for contraception and Child Marriages are still rampant, the need to empower young people is critical. To not do that, because we are tentative, unsure and scared of what others may say and think, is inexcusable.

NACO has recently released its second draft curriculum for public scrutiny. If you check their website, you can give feedback on this document. This needs to go beyond educationalists and medical experts. Where are young people? Where is your voice, telling our government that a tokenistic approach towards Sexuality Education is as damaging as not having one at all? This will only increase fear, myths and stereotypes. This will increase prejudice and discrimination against young people who are sexually active and those who don’t even know if they are.

Speak up. Advocate giving young people complete information that protects them from disease, empowers them to be informed individuals and that teaches them to be respectful to their own needs and desires and to be respectful towards the rights of others as well. This is your chance.

Ishita Chaudhry

1 comment:

mohit said...

Those who say that sexual education makes us lesser an Indian should be asked, What in their view make one an Indian? These guys just work on emotional planes, none of themhave enough wits to explain most rudimentary things about Indianness.