Addressing the Pandora’s Box called the “Bois Locker Room”
Hari Hara Sudhan R., Advisor - Gender Equality Program
The “bois locker room” case has attracted widespread attention across the nation. It is a case believed to have involved a group of school boys from South Delhi who allegedly glorified gang-rape and objectified under-age girls by passing around various girls’ naked & morphed photos in an Instagram group called “bois locker room”. The group was administered by an 18-year old boy who when caught had said that he did not know all of the Instagram group members. However, in a new twist to the incident, it was found that the comment on gang-rape was never made on the Instagram group.
The comment and idea of gang-rape was initiated by a girl on Snapchat to another boy to test the “strength of his character”. However, it should be noted that the morphed pictures were still shared on the Instagram group “bois locker room”. Looking at this incident and the misogyny that these boys of 16 years of age exhibit in this case, there are several questions and concerns that one may have. There may be different answers to such questions. Here, we discuss one of those possible answers that has proven to increase awareness towards other individuals whether they are male, female, intersex or transgender and respect each other regardless of their sexual orientation.
India underwent an economic revolution in the 1990s which permitted many new private institutions to stem in the country. Among those institutions were the large numbers of private schools. These private schools emerged under the banner to “create future leaders of India”. Looking more closely at the case of the “bois locker room”, the boys involved in the Instagram group come from one of these schools which are based in the largely wealthy part of South Delhi. These schools hardly have any diversity in them in terms of caste, class, etc. This is owing to the fact that these schools charge a very high tuition fee which is unaffordable to the majority of the population.
Radha Khan, an independent consultant in the field of gender, governance and social inclusion, points-out that from the surnames of the participants of the Instagram group “bois locker room” it is clear that most of them, if not all, come from an upper class background. Khan argues that given the name of the Instagram group, these children (boys), gather their concept of their sexuality (masculinity) from such misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, intersexphobic and biphobic sources that exist in the Indian Popular Culture, American Popular Culture, American Movies, Indian Movies and also from social media. Besides learning about sexuality from these sources, they also gather inaccurate information on sex and other related concepts through social media and pornography. Thus, the “bois locker room” case suggests that misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, intersexphobia and biphobia manifests itself in an individual from childhood. This needs to be addressed at home, schools, colleges and universities.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in 2018, launched its global campaign to promote Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). It emphasizes that CSE lays the foundation for life and love. UNESCO also urges nations to follow CSE to tackle sexual violence among many others such as puberty, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, etc. It empowers individuals to become more responsible in their attitude and behaviour towards their sexual and reproductive health. CSE has demonstrated to have decreased sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour and STI/HIV rates among the youth in general. This information is true in those countries where CSE is being effectively implemented at present.
CSE or sex education in the global context is referred to as Family Life Education (FLE) or Adolescent Education Program (AEP) in India. It trains or imparts values, attitudes and practices that may impact their family relationships. CSE is defined as:
“Learning about the cognitive, emotional, social, interactive and physical aspects of sexuality. Sexuality education starts early in childhood and progresses through adolescence and adulthood. It aims at supporting and protecting sexual development. It gradually equips and empowers children and young people with information, skills and positive values to understand and enjoy their sexuality, have safe and fulfilling relationships and take responsibility for their own and other people’s sexual health and well-being.” (p. 428)
Although UNESCO has urged nations across the world to oblige with its guidance and deliver sexuality education, in India, AEP was stopped in 2007 after a brief introduction in the school curriculum in 2005. Across India as many as 11 states opposed the delivery of CSE at schools and withdrew the same from their school curriculum. This was due to the lack of political will and other oppositions received from the religious and cultural fronts without any scientific basis to their claim. On the contrary, there is a rising need for CSE programs in India among the youth. Owing to this, AEP was updated by NCERT and UNFPA and implemented in the Indian states of Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. However, it is not a compulsory part in the curriculum.
India has one of the worst sexual and reproductive health records – one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs); one of the lowest rates of contraception use; highest rates of sexual abuse during childhood (53.2% experienced child sexual abuse) (O’Sullivan, Byers, & Mitra, 2018 p.2); high percentage of early marriage among girls (18% married before 15 years and 47% by 18 years) (O’Sullivan, Byers, & Mitra, 2018 p.2). An estimate of four million young women of the age group of 15 – 19 give birth annually (O’Sullivan, Byers, & Mitra, 2018 p.2). The estimates of teenage or adolescent unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates are very high in India. One in every sixth pregnancy in India is reported to be that of young women of the age group 15-19. Despite this record many States in India still do not have an active CSE implementation that is mandatory for all classes, which is a saddening state.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges that there is still research needed in identifying the relationship between gender and violence. It also suggests that:
“School-based programs can address gender norms and attitudes before they become deeply ingrained in children and youth. Such initiatives address gender norms, dating violence and sexual abuse among teenagers and young adults.” (p.1)
The report further indicates that positive results have been reported for a program called the ‘Safe Dates’ in the United States of America (U.S.A.) and the ‘Youth Relationship Project’ in Canada. Thus, it is a good indication that school-based good-quality age-appropriate and scientific CSE programs would mould the future citizens of a country like India in a just way that is inclusive without (if not completely) misogyny, homophobia, biphobia, intersexphobia and transphobia.
In India the CSE program talks about topics such as sexual harassment. However, as Das identifies, the curriculum (mis)informs the learners about two sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – sections 354 and 356. The curriculum says that IPC sections 354 & 356 are used to criminalise an attempt to rape. Whereas, actually, these two aforementioned sections, criminalise sexual harassment. This indicates that the CSE curriculum interchangeably used the concepts of rape and sexual harassment. It also reduces domestic violence to wife-beating in one of the case-studies. Although domestic violence between a heterosexual couple exists, domestic violence can affect any person especially of vulnerable groups.
Although the CSE program that currently exists in the Indian school curriculum discusses sexual orientation, it still privileges heteronormativity. As Das reiterates, there is no mention of the words ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘homosexuality’, etc., in the curriculum except for in the section of HIV where the term ‘men who have sex with men’ finds a mention. This is a problem besides the ones discussed above, that the CSE program lacks inclusivity and privileges heteronormativity. This gives rise to the invisibility of the gender and sexual diversity that exists in the nature and further promotes stigma and prejudice even though homosexuality has been judicially legalized in India. The other forms of sexual and gender diversity that should be mentioned in the CSE program is about transgender and intersex people along with sexualities like pansexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, etc.
In addition to the inclusion of gender and sexual diversity in the CSE program, there is a need for the inclusion of people with disabilities (differently-abled) as well. People who are differently-abled are mentioned in the introduction and then there is no mention of them in the entire text of the CSE including in the case studies and the activities. This means that people with disabilities are considered as an invisible population in the mainstream discourses. Similar to the mainstream schools, the special schools for the differently-abled do not have a good-quality, age-appropriate, scientific CSE program in place, which is also a cause for concern.
Unlike in 2007, when political parties, religious and cultural groups among other stakeholders opposed the delivery of CSE programs, to address the above-mentioned worst-case scenarios of sexual and reproductive health records in India, the country should also move towards a mandatory and a more scientific, holistic, culturally-relevant and age-appropriate CSE implementation in its schools from primary school till the higher secondary. This will, as research suggests, help young individuals to not only become more aware of one’s sexual and reproductive health, but also become more concerned of the others’ sexual and reproductive health and their well-being. The proper age-appropriate delivery of a good-quality CSE program will also teach young individuals about relationships, consent and other very important aspects of life in a more holistic way.
On a concluding note, we understand that CSE programs are of paramount significance in our present-day society. This CSE is important for many reasons including the need to reduce gender-based violence as seen in the case of #boislockerroom where young boys under the age of 18 exhibit misogyny and a girl poses as a male and plans to gang-rape and sexually abuse minor girls to allegedly test her friend’s character. CSE programs will also help individuals to mutually respect one another irrespective of each other’s sex, gender and sexual orientation. Hence, CSE programs which are science-based, good-quality, culturally-relevant, age appropriate and which are delivered by well-qualified instructors are the need-of-the-hour and the governments of the day, both, state and central, need to carefully look into this and do the needful before it is too late.
Hari is alumnus of Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development (RGNIYD) where he pursued his MA in Development Policy and Practice. He has widely presented in various academic national and international seminars and conferences. Hari was a delegate at the Harvard University's World Model United Nations (MUN) in February 2007 for which he received an AUD $1000 bursary from the Monash University, Australia. Hari is actively working research in the areas of Gender, Work and Education.