NCERT Transgender Child Inclusion Manual - What Went Wrong?

Swakshadip Sarkar - Associate Gender Equality Team




India has seen some progress when it comes to transgender rights. The verdict in Supreme Court from National Legal Services vs Union of India in 2014 (popularly known as NALSA verdict) paved the way for transgender inclusion and self-identification. The Supreme Court Judges recognised basic rights for the transgender community including legal recognition for transgender people, legal recognition for those transiting within the male-female binary. The Supreme Court also directed the Centre and State Government to take measures ensuring that transgender people get medical facilities in the hospital. They were also directed to provide transgender people with social welfare schemes and treat them as socially and economically backward classes; raise public awareness about transgender people helping them to incorporate into the society and to address issues such as fear, stigma, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression among others. The introduction of the transgender child inclusion manual was the right step and in accordance with the NALSA verdict. Then what went wrong? This essay will explore the intricacies of what went wrong that led to the withdrawal of the inclusion manual.


Introduction to the Manual


The manual has been removed by NCERT from public access. However, it was accessed by me before it was removed and hence I can talk about it from what I read and understood. The manual was a well-thoughtful and researched piece designed by Poonam Agrawal, professor and former head of the department of gender studies of NCERT, involved contributions from Mona Yadav, professor and head of the department of gender studies, NCERT; Mily Roy Anand, professor in the department of gender studies, NCERT; Rajesh, professor in the department of adult and continuing education and extension, University of Delhi; L. Ramakrishnan, vice-president of Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII); Bittu Rajaraman-Kondaiah, associate professor of biology and psychology at Ashoka University; Manvi Arora, independent researcher; Priya Babu, managing trustee at Transgender Resource Centre, Madurai; Vikramaditya Sahai, an associate at the Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR), Bengaluru; Astha Priyadarshini, Junior Project Fellow; and Pawan Kumar, DTP operator.


The manual did a good job of listing out the issues faced by transgender children in institutional and non-institutional settings and a glossary of terms being used to self-identify within the transgender community. The manual was intended to make school management and teachers more aware of the struggles of transgender kids in school and the surrounding environment. The manual suggested the introduction of 25 practices like the creation of transgender friendly infrastructures; discontinuation of gender binary practices in school, classrooms, sports, etc.; sensitisation of all teaching and non-teaching staff; curricular reforms to eliminate all biases against transgender people amongst others.


The manual further delved into creating an environment where transgender children can express themselves without fear. It also included a list of examples from current textbooks taught in K6-K8 and how gender binary is being enforced in textbooks. Suggestions were made to open up do away with the gender binary and indeed include transgender people in those activities or texts as well like the introduction of successful transgender persons as a valuable resource for the economy which at present includes only men and women. Furthermore, the manual listed a set of 9 successful transgender persons including Dr Aqsa Shaikh, a doctor of community medicine and an associate professor at Hamdard Institute of Medical Science and Research, Delhi; Padma Shri Narthaki Nataraj, the first transgender artist to receive Padma Shree; Grace Banu, the first transgender person to enrol in an engineering college in Tamil Nadu and also an activist and entrepreneur.


If the directives provided in the manual could be implemented, it could have created schools as a safe space for transgender kids and prevented them from dropping out. According to the 2011 census, there are around 487,803 out of which only 46% are literate compared to the 74% of the general population. Transgender people face extreme bullying, harassment and discrimination from both peers and teachers at school which forces them to drop out inflicting mental health issues on them and often forces them to drug abuse. Transgender kids do not often fully recognise their rights due to shame and stigma. Anyone who is perceived to be gender non-conforming also faces the same stigma of being transgendered inspite of not being one. This is what the manual was trying to address with its glossary explaining different terms that are used for self-identification and also differentiating gender expression from gender identity. The dropping out percentages can also be interpreted in terms of the number of transgender students appearing for CBSE exams. There were 55,000 transgender kids below the age of six (preferably more considering a lot of kids below six don’t understand or come out as transgender) according to the 2011 census. These kids should all be in ages between 10-16 and should be in schools. In 2020, only 19 transgender kids appeared for CBSE class 12th exams while only 6 transgender kids appeared for CBSE class 10th exams. This pretty much raises an alarm on how dire the situation is for transgender kids to remain in schools.


Withdrawal of the Manual


Although the manual received a wide range of appreciation from different eminent personalities, it also received criticism. The criticism mainly involved NCERT being “woke” and peddling American propaganda in Indian schools. While the matter of peddling in American propaganda is completely false considering transgender people exist everywhere and even in most transphobic countries in the world. The Hindutva outfits also criticised the usage of “caste patriarchy” in the article which was supposed to be an insult to Hinduism. A tweet in response to the Firstpost’s tweet about the manual also shamed NCERT for including gender non-conformity in their training manual instead of teaching Shastras in schools. This is something the Government has been actively trying to implement in schools and colleges including the introduction of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the engineering syllabus in Madhya Pradesh which sparked controversy recently. This is in contradiction to the ‘Hinduisation’ of transgender people which promotes transgender citizens as worthy of citizenship citing the ancient Hindu texts of gender diversity while the Muslim cultural history of gender diversity in India is completely ignored. The right-wing news outfit OpIndia revealed the contact details of many of the associated members involved with the manual and turned critical of pronouns as they used the phrases “Rajaraman appears to use ‘They/Them’ as their preferred pronouns.” and putting “themself” with inverted commas used for Vikramaditya Sahai who’s an associate with CLPR. The news outfit also


However, it was not just the Hindutva outfits who criticised the NCERT manual. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights also raised concerns after a complaint was filed under Section 13(I) of the CRPC Act, 2005 by Vinayak Joshi, a former RSS pracharak who brought unfounded claims of the manual being a conspiracy to inflict psychological violence on children under the name of gender sensitisation. “The text of the manual suggests gender-neutral infrastructure for children that does not commensurate with their gender realities and basic needs. Also, the idea of creating and removing binaries shall deny them equal rights of children of diverse biological needs. Second, this approach will expose children to unnecessary psychological trauma due to contradictory environments at home and in school,” NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo wrote in the letter to NCERT on 2nd November 2021. There is no evidence of teaching about diversity being a psychological trauma. Contrary to that, there is evidence that encouraging diversity in school does not only help the kids coming from oppressed backgrounds but also help other kids psychologically. The manual, on the other hand, advocated for gender-neutral toilets to help transgender kids with their dysphoria not have to choose a toilet based on their assigned sex at birth. However, it didn’t suggest completely eradicating gender-segregated toilets.


“It is also highlighted in the manual (chapter 3) that teachers are suggested to discuss with students about puberty blockers and availability for adolescents. Further, the background and qualifications of the members of the drafting committee was not verified,” the NCPCR letter added in response to the manual.


Way Ahead


On 11th December, two out of three professors from NCERT involved in formulating the manual were transferred including Agarwal who developed the manual. Professor Mona Yadav, the Head of the Department of Gender Studies in NCERT has also been transferred to the Department of Education of Groups with Special Needs and the Central Institute of Educational Technology. This has left the activists in dismay and many of them in West Bengal, Karnataka and other states are approaching the state government in the hope that their concerns about the removal of the manual will be communicated to the Central Government.


However, the stand that Central Government takes remains to be seen. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020 that attracted a lot of protests from the transgender community and allies already fell deaf ears. The Act was passed without a single transgender person in Parliament. The Act and the rules went against the NALSA verdict which guaranteed the right to self-determination without any certificate or proof required. Instead, the Act and the rules introduced the provision for having a psychological report in order to be classified as transgender. The Act also introduces the provision for only 6 months of imprisonment for people who physically or sexually harasses a transgender person while for women, the minimum imprisonment is 7 years thereby reducing the transgender people to a subhuman level.


However, there is a ray of hope as Professor Dr. Nilakshi Roy, parent of a queer child has started a petition on Change.org. The petition mentioned, “If the children and schoolteachers continue to NOT see these people for who they are, or to allow disrespect, support bullying, lack of privacy, all because they are ALL EQUALLY MISINFORMED about them, they are actually holding the Supreme Court in contempt. It is the duty of every citizen, and institutions, especially schools, to uphold the law of the land and support suitable reforms.” It remains to be seen whether the NCERT reintroduces the manual or submits to the pressure of the backlashes and criticism.



Swakshadip Sarkar grew up in West Bengal, India and they moved to the UK to earn a bachelor's degree at the age of 17. They finished their MSc in Social and Cultural Theory from the University of Bristol having worked on homosexual identity formation amongst homosexual men in West Bengal for their MSc dissertation. . They are currently doing their PhD at Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington working on policy issues that affect transgender asylum seekers in the UK. They have also been involved in activism both in India and the UK where they have participated in several outreach programmes to raise awareness about the issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. They are personally interested in LGBTQ+ activism and research especially in the broader area of gender equality and migration studies.



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